A long political rant – please ignore

My biggest fear is that we’re a country on the brink of civil war. The formerly fringe cuckoo-bird left has risen to such power and prominance in certain pockets of our society, particularly in higher education, and their adherants are so ready to take up violent and dangerous methods against those they’ve been taught to believe are their “enemies” that many of the “saner” elements of the American middle have been driven towards accepting the possibility that they have no choice but align themselves with those who are prepared to take violent measures to stop that fringe.

Today the internet erupted when a young man posted a picture of a young woman in a classroom on her laptop which sported a Trump sticker, and he said “7000 retweets and i’ll smash this bitch’s computer“. He got more than thrice that many retweets and favorites.*  This is not an isolated incident. People are unsafe on campuses across America, threatened and roughed up by fellow students and -worse- faculty and staff. How bad are things going to be when these kids get out of school and into the real world? “You lost this one, bro” indeed!

Things are coming to head in the 2016 election in which conservatism has been traded for nationalist populism because people are scared that it’s the only thing that will keep them safe from crusty old communists being propped up by violent millenial agitators. Lucky for us, America is a large enough country that once people actually do start shooting each other in the streets, there’s a decent chance that it won’t be YOUR street that it’s happening on.

I try to stay out of the weeds of politics, I really do, but these days, I’m scared. I’m honest to god for real scared, because there doesn’t seem to be any safe exit strategy. Even if there were a magic unicorn running this cycle who was going to do all of the right things and set America on the road to recovery, there’s no fixing the millions of useless, willfully ignorant, and sociopathically dangerous and violent millenials who are shrieking in faces, smearing themselves with fake blood, carrying mattresses around campuses, calling for an end to free speech, bullying and abusing fellow students in the name of equality and progress, stuffing spaghettios in their vag, and all other manner of entirely worthless or destructive activities being cranked out of the American university system.

John Dewey played the long game and won. It took a century, but by introducing cultural marxism into the education system and working it into every level, progressivism finally was able to create a large enough mass of brainwashed youth to effectively destroy an entire generation’s ability to become productive and useful members of a free society.

I really do pick the worst times to start new entrepreneurial ventures!

*:New reports are out that he actually punched the woman in the hallway AFTER being let go by campus authorities.

Map of Triton

Finding a map of Triton is way more difficult than it should be.  My google-fu was weak, and though I was able to find a great site that listed all named features on Triton with coordinates and found great images of the surface, I wasn’t able to easily find any that put the two together, and was frankly too lazy to try to hand map a moon.  None of the books I looked through in the library had anything, either.

Fortunately, one of the guys I game with was correct in his guess that if a detailed map of Triton were anywhere, it would most likely be somewhere on an astronomy wonk’s web 1.0 site.  And sure enough, hiding out of view of google image searches and split into multiple separate pieces was a pretty good labelled map of Neptune’s moon!  Thanks for finding this for me, James!

So that other people won’t have the same problem I did, I’ve pieced together a few of the more detailed sections (V2 didn’t get a great look at Triton; I left off blank and blurred sections) into a map that may show up on image searches.

The source for the original maps can be found here, at Views of the Solar System.  I claim no ownership of this image.

Map of Triton Moon of Neptune

Click to enlarge.

Short Review & Wargame Roundup

You may have noticed that I haven’t been making my Short Reviews or Wargame posts here lately.  If you didn’t already know that you could find them at the Castalia House blog, you know now.  If you’re only following me here, this is what you may have missed:

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-formula-for-conquest-james-r-adams/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-the-bubble-dwellers-by-ross-rocklynne/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-battlefield-in-black-by-george-a-whittington/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/short-reviews-grifters-asteroid-by-h-l-gold-as-harold-c-fosse/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/air-assault-on-crete/

http://www.castaliahouse.com/air-assault-on-crete-part-2-and-invasion-of-malta/

Today, my first of two pieces on Avalon Hill’s War and Peace is up:  http://www.castaliahouse.com/avalon-hill-war-and-peace/

Later this week, I’ll be digging into some Retro Fandom, sharing a few highlights from the letters section of the Fall 1945 issue of Planet Stories.  What do I have in common with Algis Budrys?  We both want more Albert de Pina!

Abyss

I explain to any new players unfamiliar with Abyss that it is a game in which you try to make fishy friends, and the person with the best friends at the end wins.  Though that description hardly matches the dark yet stunning aesthetic tone of the game, it describes play and game objectives succinctly enough that the term “fishy friends” has stuck.

In actuality, Abyss is an abstract game of political intrigue in which each player seeks to gain control of a selectorate through which they are able to place nobles from various castes into the gears of bureaucracy in an effort to exert control over the government.  You must carefully recruit important persons from all walks of society to ensure that you will be Lord of the Deep!

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Gameplay, while easy to learn, is varied and nuanced to where I can say there’s really no other game I’ve played remotely like it.  You have two different but linked economies within the game, in the form of pearls and allies.  Pearls can aid in the acquisition of allies, and allies are required for the acquisition of nobles.

Players can take one of three actions during their turn.

Exploration – Both pearls and allies can be gained through exploration; numbered allied cards are flipped from the exploration deck, and going around the table each player has an opportunity to buy the flipped card from the explorer for 1 pearl + 1 additional pearl for each card previously bought.  Sometimes monster cards appear instead; if a monster shows up, the exploring player can fight it for the reward (a combination of monster tokens (bonus points), pearls, and/or keys – more on those later), or keep going.

Petition the Council – Unbought allies go to the “council” where they’re sorted by suit and left face-down.  Rather than explore, a player can take any single suited stack.

Recruit Nobility – Noble cards from the noble deck are placed at the bottom of the board and are available for purchase.  These are bought with the allies cards acquired from exploration or petitioning the council.  These cards all have a point value, but some have additional abilities and may have keys (getting to those soon, I promise!)

The game features five distinct castes: Crabs (Red/Military Class), Squids (Blue/Political Class), Clams (Green/Mercantile Class), Jellyfish (Purple/Mystic Class) and Seahorses (Yellow/Pastoral Class).  Each suit has some sort of one-time or continuous ability that reflects their class.  Crabs tend to have the lowest point value, but often have some ability that is detrimental to opponents.  Squids and Jellyfish have average point values but have potent abilities that usually allow one to muck with cards on the board in some way or another.  My favorite factions are the Clams and Seahorses.  Though they have minor (some Clams get you pearls) or no abilities, they are usually cheaper and have higher point values than the other suits.  Finally, there are a handful of 5-suited nobles, whose primary value is administering a domain on their own without locking down your other nobles.

Keys!  Whenever you have any combination of three key tokens or nobles with keys on them, you get a “domain”.  In the abstract game of politics, this means that your nobles have been sent to the provinces to oversee a new administrative district; though they’re increasing the power and influence of your faction, they’re no longer interfering with business at court.  In gameplay terms, you draw a domain tile that will grant you a certain bonus to your victory points at the cost of losing the continuous abilities of all nobles who had key icons not already assigned to a domain.

Abyss has rapidly become a favorite in my gaming group.  Like many newer games, player conflict is mostly indirect.  Unlike some of the newer games I’ve played, however, there does seem to be some solid strategies one can use to do consistently well.  Sometimes these strategies can be mucked up by other players, or a bad flop on the nobles at the start can force one to rethink, but I may have this one figured out!

Don’t put your eggs in one basket, unless that basket is Seahorses.  The games I’ve done best in were the times I was able to corner the Seahorses with some Clams to supplement my pearl economy.  Sometimes it’s good to get some guys or gals from the other classes, particularly if they have an ability that you really want or really don’t want another player to have (the nobles that can zap stacks from the council, that allow taking an extra stack from the council, and that prevent anyone from having more than six allies in hand spring to mind), but unless you have a domain that will give you points for those specific nobles and allies, the difference in points between the blue-collar civilian castes and political or military castes may be insurmountable if the player going for farmers and merchants really is getting what he needs.

Anyway, this is one I strongly suggest you check out.  There’s an expansion – Kraken – that was released just recently.  I don’t personally own the game, but if it’s not too expensive, I might see if anyone in our group would be interested in throwing in a couple bucks each to pick it up.  Not that we’ve even come close to exhausting or growing bored with this one yet.

Jupiter Ascending: MORE LIKE THIS PLZ!

Jupiter Ascending is wow.  I’d heard nothing good about this movie but was prepared to be pleasantly surprised when I watched it over the weekend.

Despite its flaws (namely Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis’ lack of chemistry or apparent acting ability), this was one of the most amazing and ambitious SF films I’ve seen.  Even more impressive is that the Wachowski Whatevers were willing to throw nearly $200 million at a Planetary Romance, one of the rarest sorts of sci-fi to ever make to the big screen.

Stunning scenic vistas and vile decadent villains in their gorgeous palaces where they essentially bathe in human blood for immortality, all surrounded by weird gene-spliced humans that look like stuff right out of the pages of pulp and the covers of mid-century paperbacks…  Where do you ever see this sort of thing?!  Certainly not in big budget Hollywood movies that aren’t part of an already established multi-billion dollar media franchise, that’s for sure!

For all of its flaws, I want more of this!  I hate that it is both critically panned and a commercial flop, because it means even fewer directors or studios would be willing to take the sort of risk to give us truly amazing and unique sci-fi visions like this.  It’s hard to think of a movie that tried to do what Jupiter Ascending tries and was successful.  Though it was another branch of pulp sci-fi (the blue-collar guy stumbled onto a crazy galactic space adventure vein), the only one that springs to mind is the 5th Element, and that was ages ago.  Gary Oldman wasn’t an oldman!

Please, please try again!  Sure this would’ve been better with different actors, and sure there were scenes that should’ve been left on the cutting room floor (ironically, many of the lengthy action scenes), but this really IS the sort of movie I want to see more of!

If my Worldcon PIN ever shows up, I’ll be nominating Jupiter Ascending for Longform Dramatic presentation.  I know it will probably lose to Star Wars even if it gets the nom, but really, we need less franchise blockbusters and more genuinely visionary weird sci-fi epics.

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Jupiter Ascending was the closest we’ve had to a movie trying to give us this in years!

Can you play Dungeons & Dragons without Minis?

The question arises because some commenters at File770 brought up that minis were unnecessary, and one pointed out that to his kids “Old School” meant “that the game not be bogged down in setting up miniatures/toy soldiers or taking long breaks in the action to consult the rules”.

I’m all for games that don’t require taking long breaks to consult the rules, but I’m also wary of simplifying play by discarding them altogether.

So, can you play Dungeons & Dragons without minis?  Of course you can, but it would be akin to playing Monopoly without dice; players would choose which space they landed on to buy whichever property they wanted unless the banker capriciously says otherwise.

I’ve played several RPGs where minis weren’t used for encounters.  I’m not saying it can’t be done.  But in the case of Dungeons & Dragons, the game’s rules assume that you’re using miniature.  You have to toss out a significant chunk of the game’s mechanics to get away with not using them, because suddenly movement rates, weapon and spell ranges and areas of effect become completely arbitrary, left to the DM to decide whether or not a person is where they say they are or doing what they say they’re doing.  In a way, this is incredibly unfair to players, each of whom may have a different mental picture of what’s going on in a given encounter.  When you have minis out, everyone knows exactly where they are in relation to each other, their opponents and physical obstacles in the environment.

I’m not saying that people who aren’t using miniatures are bad gamers or their games are bad or unfun – I’ve had great fun games in that didn’t use minis – but I will say that they’re playing it wrong.  Because when you’re not playing by following the rules, how else can you describe it?

Seriously, though, if you’re running a game or playing in a game, just try it sometime.  You’ll be surprised at how much more exciting and involved your encounters can be when everyone shares the same view of the combat situation.

Free Preview: The Gift of the Ob-Men by Schuyler Hernstrom

This sneak preview is being made free to all.  If we reach the $1000 stretch goal, the a full preview of issue 1’s cover story will be made available to Kickstarter backers:

Sounnu was permitted one last night in the village. At dawn the shamans pronounced him exile and the young man left without ceremony. His fellow warriors stayed to their huts, unable to bear the spectacle. Even Tenno lay on his woven palette feigning sleep. Sounnu had been his constant companion for their entire lives. They were close as brothers until the day Sounnu’s father died. The sword the old man bore, crafted by the forgotten lore of the ancients, passed into Sounnu’s hands. Tenno’s flint blades, though artfully made, had seemed worthless by comparison and a shadow of envy passed over their friendship. Sounnu was taking the ancient blade with him into exile; none had dared attempt to take it from the young man.

Though his heart was heavy Sounnu resisted the urge to look over his shoulder as he left the green vale which cradled his village. Trees and shrubs diminished until the steppe was underfoot. By sundown he had crossed the grasslands that separated the vale from the ruined city due west, a nameless relic of the golden age.

The next day he followed the western road as it made its long, winding detour around the edges of the city. The remains of its crooked towers slashed at the blue sky like jagged flint blades, a last blow from a long ago age when people could twist nature into grand shapes of their own design. The road had shrunk to a mere footpath by the time it reached the base of the old mountains. Like the city, the lands beyond the mountains were forbidden by old custom. In despair Sounnu scaled in the low peaks, now finally sparing a glance backwards to view the trailing tendrils of smoke in the far distance marking his former home. There was warmth and community, now forever out of reach. The high air stung his broad, naked back with lashings of snow, shining like miniscule diamonds in the bright light of a cloudless sky.

On the other side of the range the grim warrior found himself standing before a forest of dark pine and stunted birch. Sounnu felt a palpable menace emanating from the line of black shadows draped under the gnarled branches. The presence of danger stirred his soul to something of its former buoyancy. Impatient for the thrill of combat he drew the ancient broadsword from its carved scabbard and plunged forward. He screamed his low battle cry into the mute trunks and scrambled over rocks and deadfall, ducking limbs and weaving through brush. No ghask nor ghoul nor ur-wolf answered his hoarse challenges. He grew tired and gave up seeking foes. Sounnu drank from a clear, cold stream and lay to rest on a bed of moss.

He awoke surrounded by tall heavy creatures, bearing the form of a mushroom bent into the shape of men. Their ill-formed, elongated faces were unreadable masks. The warrior sought the handle of his blade but found he could not move.

He spoke to the mushroom men in a voice heavy with despair. “By what art am I frozen?”

“By manipulating our spores we are able to cause specific calamities to fall upon the unwary,” they answered in unison.

Sounnu sighed, “This is an inglorious end. Be quick, spare me this indignity.”

The mushroom men laughed and replied, “Not so hasty! We will avenge ourselves slowly upon you and extract some recompense for the great wrong your people have wrought.”

Sounnu’s brow furrowed. “To what do you refer?”

The mushroom men leaned their heads back and shook slightly, an apparent expression of distress. Their low voices pooled over the soft ground around the young man like a cool mist as they spoke, “The memory pains us. Long ago your species attacked us with fire and steel, pushing us from our beloved vale into this place. Once we stood content underneath clean oaks as laughing fey danced around our thick legs. Now we work our spores into weapons to ward against ur-wolves and ghasks.”

“In my village the shamans told stories of the hulking Ob-men who once ruled the vale. The ancients defeated them with much sacrifice, expelling their evil from the land.”

The mushroom men let out a low, keening wail.

Sounnu winced, continuing, “I spoke hastily. Perhaps the term Ob-men does not refer to your ancestors.”

The mushroom men spoke in harsh tones, “No! That is the name they bestowed upon us. We were there! And now to learn you creatures have lionized our expulsion! Oh, the injustice is compounded! What variations should we apply presently upon this body to expend our rage?”

For the first time, one of the mushroom men spoke singularly. “Perhaps a spore to turn him inside out?”

Another suggested a spore to splinter the mind into dozens of warring identities. Sounnu felt cold sweat erupt along his muscular frame. He interrupted their conference.

“Would it, perhaps, lessen your anger to know that I am an outcast from the village of men? The great cities are no more. The temples lie in jumbled ruins. The punishment of exile now is a death sentence. And by killing me, you stoop to perform their errands and perfect their will.”

The mushroom men ceased their planning.

“You are an enemy of the humans?”

Sounnu spoke earnestly, “I am indeed. In a fit of pique I smashed an idol and offended the priestesses. The incident arose from an excess of energy on my part. The clans have faded away, consolidated now into one village. The tribes of ghask that once raided the vale are slain, and no ur-wolves dare come close to the village. There is no one for me to fight. To assuage my boredom I explored the vale. Inside a ruin I came across the idol, a strange thing with a strange face. Neither shaman nor priestess could explain its meaning. I became enraged and smashed it. At that time Yulik was thatching his roof and fell painfully. The shamans believed the events were linked and I was charged with bringing a god’s wrath down upon the village. They are clever men, though stunted and cruel, and look for any excuse to castigate a warrior.”

The Ob-Men replied, “Your story bores us. We would prefer you elaborate upon an earlier comment. The great cities are no more?”

“This is true. The elders tell us the city people died away, ignoring nature’s demands to work their great art.”

“So mankind now consists of only one village?”

“That is true also, to the extent of my people’s knowledge. Some dream that across the mountains and through endless ruins lay communities of men that live as in the golden age. They are admonished for their frivolity.”

The mushroom men stepped away from Sounnu and conversed amongst themselves. The warrior allowed himself to relax. He would be tortured to death. Such was fate. The mushroom men returned, now animated and anxious.

“We have decided to spare your life under one condition.”

There was a smell in the air, earthy and floral. Sounnu found he could move. He stood, shaking slightly from the spores’ effects.

“What is this condition?”

The mushroom men spoke in unison again. “You will return home and empty the village of people.”

Sounnu laughed. “That is impossible. Upon sighting an exile the shamans will fill my guts with worms and my ears with shrieking demons. The priestesses will publicly rebuke me with stinging words and the warriors will be compelled to kill me. Why not use your dire spores and perform the deed yourselves?”

“To answer your first concern, know that we will bestow upon you advantages. Insofar as completing the task ourselves, know that we also are a dying race. Our numbers have dwindled to that which you see before you. Should our spores be exhausted then we risk total annihilation. Do as we say and restore us to the vale where we may become contented again and the race of man trouble us no more.”

The mushroom men made Sounnu swear an oath on the souls of his ancestors and another on his prized blade. Satisfied, they then looked to one of their number. A squat specimen with black spots stepped toward Sounnu. The smell of bitter acorns filled his nose. Sounnu lost consciousness.