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.

Advertisements

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.

3427595

Battlefields & BroadswordsTM

Battlefields & BroadswordsTM is an attempt to take a look at Old School fantasy miniatures rules and find a way to effectively bring them back into play as part of an Old School RPG campaign.

One of my biggest complaints about OD&D is that it is very poorly presented and rather messy. My biggest praise for Basic is that it took the workable mechanical ideas strewn across over half a dozen booklets and put them into something that was much more player friendly. I can’t help but wonder if some of the needless complexity as a result of organizational sloppiness sprang from the limitations of how many pages Gary could saddle stitch into a single booklet. Would the information have been presented better if Volumes 1-3 could’ve been perfect bound? Who knows.

In any case, Chainmail is a much easier to pick up and better presented system, though being complete in a single booklet definitely helps. The version I have has additions and various rules for incorporating elements from Dungeons & Dragons into the game. The base game needs very little work done to it because it works as-is. I may clean up the formatting a bit and make it look nice, but aside from removing certain historical reference elements. For my purposes, I don’t feel the need to have a specific unit of “Swiss” with their own mechanics, and though defining where assorted Turks, Janissaries, and Flems fall into in terms of units may be interesting, I’m content to let that be an exciting artifact of the Chainmail for those who discover it.   I think defining units based on their equipment or natural abilities, in the case of monsters, is more appropriate to my purposes. As such, I’ll be also changing a few terms: while “Light” troops remain “Light”, “Heavy” troops become “Medium” and “Armored” troops become “Heavy”, with these values corresponding to typical fantasy RPG armor ranges based on the described equipment).

Where is the value add in Battlefields & Broadswords?

Chainmail is great is if you’ve got a giant playing area and hundreds of miniatures. What it’s not great for is your typical gaming group who has limited space and only a handful of minis.

What I want to do with Battlefields & Broadswords is bring the mechanical simplicity of the Chainmail system to a scale small enough that players with only a few minis can still engage in medium scale battles. Personally, I find the War Machine mechanics from BECMI to be a dismal number crunch where one tediously feeds in a bunch of information and gets a battle result spat out. As a wargamer, I love the thrill of high level tactical combat, which is all but missing from most tabletop RPG experiences simply as a matter of complexity.

I hope to accomplish the following goals with something I’m calling S3M or the Simplified System for Single Miniatures:

  • Scale Old School miniature rules to a scope where groups with just a few minis and a board or hex-map can work mid-sized tactical combat into their games.
  • Provide an easy tracking system for units; players may wish to have mini-character sheets for their troops, though GMs can treat troops as stat-blocks as necessary.
  • Provide quick ways for players to figure out the cost to create, equip and maintain different unit types based on commonly used prices from old school gaming sources.
  • Adapt certain elements which generally require multiple miniatures to adjudicate (such as blast areas from siege engines) to use simple results tables.

I have my work cut out for me, but I’ve got to admit, I’m really excited about this!

The Stars & Barred

By strange coincidence, all of this insanity about the Confederate flag is happening right on the eve of my dad and I commencing Civil War, one of the best, most ambitious Civil War board games ever made.

The current iconoclasm against the Confederate Battle Flag and Confederate iconography in general has reached absurd lengths as Civil War computer games are being pulled from digital shelves and the General Lee is being reimagined without the Stars & Bars for any future incarnations and toys of the Dukes of Hazzard. People have called for Gone With the Wind to be given the Song of the South treatment and banished.The problem with Iconoclasm is that it winds up granting just that much more power to the icons people are railing against; if they weren’t powerful, why would they need to be smashed?

Suddenly, people who don’t have any real emotional stake in the old Stars & Bars have a reason to say “Hey, wait a minute,” because they see folks tearing stuff down largely for the purpose of tearing down; they see people choosing a weak, difficult to defend, target being attacked because the attackers are certain that their victory is a sure thing. And if anything has shown itself to be true, it’s that folks will be ready to rally around an underdog, especially when it’s being attacked for purely socio-political reasons. If anything will cause the south to “rise again”, it’ll be marketplaces soft-banning the Stars & Bars. Civil War video games are out at Apple; when Skynyrd comes down from iTunes, folks may go to war.

I can’t help but wonder if my State’s flag will come under fire soon. They fed us a bullshit line back in grade school state social studies about how the Arkansas flag is diamond shaped because we have a diamond crater, but that’s just because they wanted to retcon our flags’ origins harder than Capcom retconned Street Fighter 1 out of existence in the 90s and early Oughts.  There was actually a law passed in 1987 claiming that the diamond stands for literal diamonds. It’s shaped like a diamond because it’s just the Virginia battle flag bisected.

If the diamond is for diamonds, then the red is for crawfish and the blue is for the St. Helena King Biscuit Blues festival.

If the diamond is for diamonds, then the red is for crawfish and the blue is for the St. Helena King Biscuit Blues festival.

But back to games… the notion that historical games are effectively being censored because they are accurately including period iconography is not only ridiculous, it is patently offensive.  I’ve never flown the Stars & Bars and until now, I’ve never had an inkling to, but there’s only so long and so far you can kick a southern boy!  So, when we start tonight, I’ll be playing the South and kick the tar out of those Yankees until they have no choice but to vote for George McClellan!

Into the Tower of Zenopus Pt 2: TPK

We had a reduced party for the second session of Zenopus, with only two players showing up. I let them pick up a few mooks from just off the ship to help pick up the slack. I was surprised that they opted to go straight back into the dungeon rather than ask around for the “boss” whom the goblins told them about. They seemed to think that the goblins might be more inclined to show them to the boss themselves if the party showed back up where they were told they didn’t belong.

The party initially opted to check out a different direction, going north. First rule of dungeon fighting: don’t knock on doors and don’t wait for things to answer your knock. Because you’ve just lost any element of surprise and whatever is coming through the door is probably not going to be friendly. The party was crammed into a hallway while two ghouls burst through the door they’d been knocking on.

The party order was Dwarf/mook, mook/mook, and elf in back. While the front rows sissy slapped each other (no one was rolling particularly well last night), the elf took a shot with his bow. The mooks in the middle didn’t have a chance to duck or move out of the way, so the elf, who rolled a 2, plugged one of them in the back of the head, killing him straight out. By the end of the scuffle, two hirelings and both ghouls were dead. The hirelings were all heartless ruffians and pirates; the one who lived kicked the corpses of his companions and took from their pockets “what they owed him”.

The party followed the path south until it eventually led to where they had fought the rats and met the goblins. An unfortunate wandering monster roll meant that the same goblins who’d told them to get the hell out the previous night were hanging around and waiting to be relieved. High charisma modifiers meant that the goblins weren’t going to try to kill the party outright, but they did tell them to get the hell out. The party decided to try to bribe the goblins with the platinum pieces that they had found in the coffins where the ghouls were; the goblins are nothing, if not greedy, so after a quick huddle, they negotiated up to 15 platinum pieces: we’ll introduce you to the boss tonight after sundown and we won’t tell him that you’ve been down here. The goblins were convinced to take 5 platinum right away and 10 later at night.

You can never trust players to not knock things off the rails, even if they’re knocking things back onto the first rails they’d knocked themselves off of in the first place… While the goblins were trying to figure out how to divide 5 by 4, the party decides that they could take the goblins. Right as they decided to attack, seven more goblins show up to relieve their companions. And yeah, I rolled it. The goblins swarmed the party. The elf opted not to run and leave the dwarf (with his slower movement) behind. After the first round, the pirate mook ran. Even though the goblins were rolling low, when you’re rolling for 8 or 9 of them, some of them are eventually going to hit. And when they did, they rolled high damage.

Luckily, my players were happy to roll up new characters and try again, showing up in town looking for their friends that they’d heard had gone to Portown in search of treasure and adventure. The barmaid told them their friends had gone off the other day with some pirates and were never seen again. The priest of Triton mentioned that he’d healed a dying elf, but that had been a few days ago. No, he didn’t have any Acolytes to spare on a fool’s adventure. Yeah, there were a couple of wizards who had a damnfool rivalry that might have something to do with tunnels under the cliffs. Hey, check with Lord Alba.

The new party, two fighters, opted to call on the rather Bronte-esque Lord Alba, who cursed the loose lips of servants and asked that discretion would be appreciated, telling them of his missing daughter (Lemunda), whose return would be greatly appreciated and rewarded. He mentioned that she liked to visit the sea cliffs and watch the sunsets, when she wasn’t cavorting down at the wharfs.

Out on the cliffs, they could see a ship anchored about a mile out. The party had a random encounter with some picnicking teenages, who were there to watch the sunset and watch the smugglers who sometimes row into the sea cliffs. How can you get there? We don’t know. By boats, we guess… At that point, we had to wrap because the library was closing and we were being hurried out. It’s remarkable how much can happen in a session with a simple system. Two combat encounters, half a dozen RP encounters, a TPK and a new party getting rolled up all happened in just an hour and a half!

I’m a little disappointed that the party didn’t try to meet with the Thaumaturge; I’d cooked up a thing where he was going to get the party to rescue Lemunda for him, charm her, and convince Lord Alba to marry her off to him. It still might come up, so who knows? Players now know that there’s a missing girl somewhere down there and they’ll be on the lookout for her.

It’s interesting, because I was a little bit worried that Tower of Zenopus wouldn’t have enough content for my group. If I’d run it strictly as a bug-hunt, that might be the case, but by sticking it in a slightly fleshed out town and giving the scant denizens of the dungeon a lot of motivations and rivalries, I think I could get about twice as much, if not more, play out of it than I’ll actually have time to run.