Music – Winter World, Reliquary

I was recently told that the inappropriately dressed ice-themed female character was a fantasy trope that needs to die.

Vraala’s customary attire would be immodest even by the laxest of Martian standards in the Elysian summers.  How could the blue-skinned royal so comfortably wear naught but a translucent sapphire gorgerine and spidersilk loin cover when even her courtiers seemed to enjoy having some protection from Neptunian weather?  Ch’Or now knew the answer.  Vraala was colder than the planet she ruled.  – At the Feet of Neptune’s Queen

Oops…

Tower of Zenopus Pt 3: Sopor Aeternus

At 1st level, it’s not about having a balanced party. It’s about having Sleep, goddamnit! And have it they did: we were back up to 4 party members yesterday, the fighter and magic user who missed last time and thus survived and the new fighter and dwarf that the players who died rolled up. There was a little bit of worrying about the balance of a party with 3 fighters and a mage, but those fears were allayed during the revenge trip to the dungeon.

After some discussion about how to reach the caves, it was determined that they weren’t going to be able to buy a skiff with the money they had, certainly couldn’t hire anyone to safely guide them through the rocks, and wouldn’t be able to reach the caves without being noticed by the pirate tub anchored about a half mile out. So through the tunnels it would be!

They went straight forward toward to the goblin barracks and managed to get the drop on nearly a dozen greenskins hanging around chatting and playing cards (gambling with the very electrum that they had pilfered from the TPKed group). The fighters ineffectually whizzed a few arrows across the large room. A couple of the goblins made to run off to the south through the puzzle room, the goblins playing cards rose to attack (except for the one who grabbed a stack of electrum and ran west). One of the attacking goblins caught an arrow in the neck, but that was chump change. The magic user got Sleep off for 12 hit dice, immediately zonking the remaining 10 goblins, including those trying to flee.

What followed was a blood bath as the party butchered all goblins but one whom they tied up. The room was looted and the party let out a great hurrah that they were no longer two days from being kicked out of their rooms at the inn. The remaining goblin was forced to lead them to the sea cliffs. Of course the goblin knew the straight shot to the caves was through a spider’s lair, and he wanted a decent chance of getting out alive. So, he led them to where the Thaumaturge was hanging out and tried to make a break for it. The goblin’s cry was enough to let the Thaumaturge get a spell off before the start of combat (Protection from Good), but the goblin didn’t manage to break free. The goblin got one of the MU’s daggers in the back of the neck.

Rollo the pirate didn’t do much besides keep the party distracted long enough for Alain the Thaumaturge to charm one of the fighters. The charmed fighter was all “Oh, hey, wait, no, it’s cool, this is the guy we were supposed to talk to!” and managed to buy Alain time to get back to his tower. He’ll be mad when he finds out that he dropped his scroll of levitation.

There’s one more Library-sanctioned session left, though the group has expressed a desire to keep going in another venue. I’m pretty pleased by this, given the disarray my Alfheim group is in, but at the same time, if they save Lemunda from the Pirates next time, I’d be happy with that conclusion.

B&B Dev Update

Combat involves a LOT of dice rolling. Like Yahtzee or Farkle, so it might be fun, and I don’t really see any reason to change it.  Just roll a fist full of six-siders, pick out any kills and knock down some minis/scratch off your unit HP.

combat matrix

Morale rules are less fun and may be fairly incompatible with standard monster morale ratings from basic games.

morale check

I feel like a failure as a technical writer because I haven’t figured out how to better explain and simplify the morale rules yet. I want to at least include a faithful recreation of the base mechanics of Chainmail, even if I intend to leave out the historical flavoring optional rules, like ‘Swiss just murder everyone’ and ‘all Polish troops are elite’.  But Morale and Cannon fire are doozies.

Anyway, to accommodate using morale from basic games for the S3M, I’ll probably need to make some major changes in how retreat and end of melee works.

I’m almost done with the core mechanics, but I find myself doubting the usefulness of B&B as a product.  I’m hoping that the S3M & Unit Cost Guide will justify and validate its existence in the OSR.  Unlike HALLS, though, I intend to see this through, because if S3M works it will actually be a functional cross-system module/mini-game that any group can use for platoon to company level fantasy combat.

That Devil Forrest

In the most recent spat of erasure of southern heritage, the mayor of Memphis has made the rather ghoulish proposition to dig up the body of Nathan Bedford Forrest and, I don’t know, toss him in the delta or something?

We’re always told that Forrest was the scum of the earth because he was the founder or head of Ku Klux Klan depending on who you ask.  His involvement with the group was brief and when he saw where things were headed he resigned and called for its dismantling.

What I did not know about Forrest, however, was that he was not only forward thinking on race, he was an open advocate of civil rights and equality between the races.

Ladies and Gentlemen I accept the flowers as a memento of reconciliation between the white and colored races of the southern states. I accept it more particularly as it comes from a colored lady, for if there is any one on God’s earth who loves the ladies I believe it is myself. ( Immense applause and laughter.) I came here with the jeers of some white people, who think that I am doing wrong. I believe I can exert some influence, and do much to assist the people in strengthening fraternal relations, and shall do all in my power to elevate every man to depress none. (Applause.) I want to elevate you to take positions in law offices, in stores, on farms, and wherever you are capable of going. I have not said anything about politics today. I don’t propose to say anything about politics. You have a right to elect whom you please; vote for the man you think best, and I think, when that is done, you and I are freemen. Do as you consider right and honest in electing men for office. I did not come here to make you a long speech, although invited to do so by you. I am not much of a speaker, and my business prevented me from preparing myself. I came to meet you as friends, and welcome you to the white people. I want you to come nearer to us. When I can serve you I will do so. We have but one flag, one country; let us stand together. We may differ in color, but not in sentiment. Many things have been said about me which are wrong, and which white and black persons here, who stood by me through the war, can contradict. Go to work, be industrious, live honestly and act truly, and when you are oppressed I’ll come to your relief. I thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for this opportunity you have afforded me to be with you, and to assure you that I am with you in heart and in hand. (Prolonged applause.) – N.B.F. in an address to the Independent Order of Pole-Bearers Association (a Memphis-based Civil Rights Group)

Yeah, that’s the guy they want to dig up.  Oh well…

Forrest

Nathan Bedford Forrest: ex-Klansman, Civil Rights Advocate, Lover of Women, 2*2 Cavalry General

As we’re upon the anniversary of Gettysburg, here’s something to think about:

At the 50th anniversary of one of the biggest battles of the Civil War, the PEOPLE WHO HAD ACTUALLY BEEN SHOOTING AT EACH OTHER were able to come together as friends and brothers, shake hands, tell stories, and eat thousands of pies and gallons of ice cream together under BOTH the Union and Confederate battleflags!  If the people who were shot at by people who’d held high the Southern Cross were able to meet with their ex-rebel brothers and eat apple cobbler and fried chicken, who are we to whine and complain?

In unrelated news, I think Cannons may be out of Battlefields & Broadswords.  The Chainmail rules for them suck and I don’t anticipate many groups using them in their Basic games.  Cannons aside, I’m just about done with the core mechanics.  After that will come incorporation of the Fantasy Rules and distilling rules for the S3M.  I have a few ways to go about it, but I think i’m going to try to treat units as characters with their own character sheets, with each mook representing the equivalent of 1 HP.  Where it gets tricky is how I’ll incorporate leveled leader characters; hopefully the rules on Heroic Leaders will give me some ideas.  At first I was worried about how to handle ranks, but I think it will work out like the two headed bifurcated snake boss fight.

Short Reviews – Doctor Rivet and Supercon Sal, Gary K Wolf

Doctor Rivet and Supercon Sal appears in the January 1976 issue of the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and was the cover story.  Gary K Wolf eventually went on to create Roger Rabbit, because of course he did.

Long before Mr. & Mrs. Smith or Ecks & Sever, there was Doctor Rivet and Supercon Sal. He’s a rogue robotics engineer whose social ineptitude has led him to prefer to con and keep the company of the robots he’s modified. She’s a sassy dame who’s not afraid to use her feminine wiles to wring every last dollar out of lonely space men. An evil space mining boss has set these two top notch cons against one another to take them out of the picture of his diabolical schemes. Will Doc & Sal figure out they’ve both been set up before sparks fly and light the powder keg they’ve stumbled on?!

Putting crime noir characters in the sort of pulpy setting from which great stuff like Futurama liberally borrows, Doctor Rivet and Supercon Sal embodies so much of what makes science fiction fun. It’s subversive fun, and feels a bit naughty, because it knowingly disregards certain conventions and tropes of both ::finger quotes:: “serious” sci-fi and pulp crime thrillers while taking others and playing them to the hilt in a way that makes the mundane outlandish and the outlandish plausible.  By making the crime noir thriller a sci-fi romp and the using sci-fi as a means to ramp up action, Wolf creates a stunning synthesis of the genres that spoofs both but makes a masterpiece to fit in either.

Yesterday, I mentioned my dislike for Stanislaw Lem’s more absurdist writing. In those kinds of stories, absurd concepts are expanded upon like a balloon to see how much the idea and story can take until it pops. Rather than creating a story in which the premise eventually collapses under its absurdity, Wolf only uses the absurd to where it will help prop up the law of awesome. Much like Supercon Sal herself, this story is not afraid to show some leg. Whether it’s a double crossing space pirate robo-kitchenette, the president flying around on a jetpack, not one but two Boss Hogg-quality villains on our heroes’ trail, or even the kitschy 20th century theme diners whose themes all spring from a gross misunderstanding of the 20th century, it’s all about making the story fun, exciting and cool. It’s the sort of mile-a-minute sci-fi action that you rarely see (with The 5th Element still being held up as one of the best recent examples) because it’s often so easy to get bogged down in this or that detail. No bogging down here, just sexy sci-fi hi-jinks.

Not everyone can be a sword wielding prince of Mars, of but with a little luck and ingenuity, we insecure techno-doofs might, like Doc Rivet, have a chance of landing a big score and winning the heart of a bombshell blonde that robots and spacemen alike would give their left nut for a wink and a smile.  I’m especially grateful that DR & SS was in this issue, because otherwise the January 1976 issue would’ve been a miserable waste of preachy, dismal or just plain bad short fiction.

Doctor Rivet and his robot buddy pull the old snake-oil cure-all super-tonic con on a group of mining robots.

Doctor Rivet and his robot buddy pull the old snake-oil cure-all super-tonic con on a group of mining robots.

On a side note, I’d like to share with you one of the most trolleriffic Guardian articles I’ve ever read (and that’s saying something)!  Behold: “Fantasy cannot build its imaginary worlds in short fiction”

Civil War & Book Haul

Over the course of two nights, my dad & I managed to set up and play the first two turns of Civil War. My girlfriend could not wrap her head around the notion that we’d spent 3 hours playing Friday night and only finished two turns. Part of the reason for the length of turns in Civil War is the method of determining actions and turn length; turns can go on, while not indefinitely, for a very long time.

Each turn, both sides roll for command points and initiative. On the first roll, each player gets a number of command points for each theater based on their own roll and the priority of theater (which is set secretly by each player the previous turn). The difference between the players’ die rolls is used to determine how many actions each player may take, with the higher rolling player going first with an initiative advantage of one reinforcement point or one general without the cost of an action. Rolling identical initiatives will give both players additional command points, and move the command track marker along, unless the identical initiatives are listed on the command track as ones which will end the turn immediately. This goes on back and forth until both players have spent all of their command points and reinforcements or players make a turn ending initiative roll.

The mechanics of Civil War are designed to reflect the problems both sides had during the conflict. Supply and logistics are an issue for both players, but the south moreso. Historically, no sides were ever able to strike quick and decisive blows, but would rather skirmish, shift about, skirmish some more, and hope to eventually wear their enemy down. In Civil War, you can win several victories against an army, but in a subsequent pulse, reinforcements can negate any damage you’ve done beyond gaining advantageous grounds. Unless you have an exceptional general (a Lee or a Grant), most armies in a theater will only have two attacks in a turn, and there’s probably more productive use of your command points than having the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia go tit-for-tat. But when you’ve won a skirmish, you just feel like you have to press in pursuit for the kill, even knowing mechanically you’re not really getting that much of an edge.

So, in our first two turns, much of the mucking about happened in the Trans-Mississippi region. Stonewall Jackson led a small force to take Springfield and drive the Indians out of Kansas. Most of the operations were a wash, I couldn’t hold anything in Missouri, and Jackson was eventually ran back east, but not before three Union supply depots were burned. I may have made a mistake in not sticking Earl Van Dorn in Arkansas, thinking he’d do less harm banished to New Orleans; despite being an absolutely lousy general, he’s just about the only army level commander that the south can spare for that region early in the game.

Most of the rest of the turn was tit-for-tat along the Maryland/Virginia border while I built up the Army of the Tennessee. Beginning on Turn 3, both sides can make a play for Kentucky, and I want to have an army ready to do so while the Union’s attention has been divided.

I’m trying to get more reading done and less screwing around with antique video games (but Sword of Aragon is just soooo good!), and managed to knock out two of the books on my list from this weekend, a posthumously published Fritz Leiber Lovecraftian Sci-fi Horror, The Dealings of Daniel Kesserich, and a supplemental volume (a chunk of an earlier collection not entirely released in English) of short fiction by Stanislaw Lem, Memoirs of a Space Traveller: the Further Reminisces of Ijon Tichy.

Leiber’s Lovecraftian tale was a treat, and I’ll leave it at that; Lem’s short stories were a mixed bag. I find that I personally enjoy Lem the most when he is writing sci-fi horror tales of the “what hath we gods wrought?!” variety, in which mad scientists have unveiled their monstrosities that require a rethinking of human body, mind and soul. Some of his absurdist (often ad nauseum) stuff is a little too precious for me, and I won’t hold any attacks on straw capitalism he was probably forced to write in the 50s against him. But I prefer the Ijon Tichy as Randolf Carter to the Ijon Tichy as Baron Munchausen.

I really need to start doing my Short Reviews again, especially as I’ve got a lot of fodder for them. It’s just that my own writing and game development has taken up a lot of my time. Over the weekend, I picked up quite a haul to supplement my meager pulp collection, hopefully of the variety that will blow those 70s issues of Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction out of the water. For a little over $20, I got a stack of 15 issues of Astounding from between 1949 and 1951. The real score of my Sunday haul, though, was this copy of Planet Stories from 1949 featuring a Leigh Brackett Mars novel.

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