I wish I was more familiar with the source comics… but so far I’ve been good about resisting reading them during work.

It’s Fate, but they have an interesting character creation system using “Modes” that somewhat streamlines character generation by having you pick three of four modes and ranking them +3, +2, +1. The modes have associated skills, and where they overlap (a skill is on both lists), they auto-bump up, so the overlap isn’t wasted. Plus they have weird modes beyond the standard 4, to model specific concepts from the comic (like being an Automaton or dinosaur).

Something I really want to see in play is brainstorming–a structured way to bring science and similar “background” skills into prominence, by letting you influence the problem you’re trying to solve. Plus brainstorming is a competitive/cooperative thing… you’re all working together, but if you win by the most, your idea is true and the other players have to work their ideas around it.

I haven’t played it yet, but I’d like to.

Ten Copper has wargaming and roleplaying news.

Sagan Diary by John Scalzi. I liked the idea of this, but didn’t enjoy the novella much separated from the remainder of the series. It’s an interesting experiment, and it’s so positive in outlook that it stands apart. Writing positively about love seems much tougher than hate, vengeance, and action-y revenge. So for a story on the skew, it’s well done. I want to read it alongside a reread of the series–I bet it works better when the characters are fresh in our minds.

The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley. This is as large and bold as everyone’s been saying. It’s fantasy world building that explicitly turns away from medieval European influences, and it’s vibrant for it.

There are a lot of protagonists; sometimes the queue for transitioning to a new character left me a little confused, getting up to speed over the first page of the chapter. That’s probably due to the sprawling cast and many POV characters.

I’m very much looking forward to rereading this. I suspect that having paid the price to adjust to the world (and fight off my default assumptions), the next read will allow me to focus more on the characters, their story arcs and adventures.

Randall Munroe’s What If is culled from his excellent What If? website. I really like the way that he approaches the questions, and there’s enough science transmitted to me that it checks some of my gut-feeling level assumption. (The rocket fuel/exhaust velocity relationship from the golfing to propel a ship question really illustrated something I’d never thought much about.)

Tobias Buckell’s Arctic Rising is a great near future adventure. It’s a bit fish-out-of-water, in that Anika is a pilot, but her challenges are up close and personal. It builds into a mystery that coheres (until it reaches peak Bond Villain, where it’s suddenly quite fantastic). The world building in the background feels all too realistic–particularly the competing powers in the arctic waters, the need of the navies to justify themselves, and so on.

All in all, it was well written and interesting. I’ll be checking out the sequel, Hurricane Fever, soon.

Best Served Cold by Joe Abercombie. This is a great low-fantasy world, very divided–much like Renaissance Italy, with neighboring powers influencing the local situation, shifting alliances, and mercenary bands.

Monza’s a driven anti-hero, well drawn, engaging, and I could identify with her despite her villainy and willingness to embrace horrific practices in her revenge. The book balances a number of things; Monza’s gather allies are each unique and have a healthy regard for themselves.

One of the great, very subtle things that emerges as the story advances is that Benna gains real heft. We see Monza encounter person after person who challenges her “avenging my innocent brother” story, and we see her flashback to the past with a new read, changing how we see both Monza and her brother.

I just finished Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey. I wasn’t a huge fan, mostly for subject and attitude, but did appreciate the pacing and world building. Ironically, as I sat down to write this below Best Served Cold, I realized how similar the plots are. (In each, the protagonist swears to kill their betrayers one-by-one.)

Stark didn’t click for me as well; I suspect looking deeper would be valuable. Quickly thinking about it: Monza begins hale, is broken, and we endure her painful recovery. Stark is better than ever, cocky and confident.

Stark is also consciously posing, almost from the first moment he steps on stage. As the book progresses, we figure out that his pose conceals pain, but it’s a heavy load of snark before it starts coming through. While there’s more to it, that’s what quickly comes to mind. (Though: his magic making things “too easy” might play into the same difference in feel between the Sandman versus Monza.)

Long story short: it was well written and kept me engaged. I read it quickly and mostly enjoyed it. But I’m not going to hunt for its sequels.

I’m behind on my notes/reviews of books. The last full reviews were for Ammonite by Nicola Griffith and Lock In by John Scalzi. http://www.scottrpg.com/llamafodder/ammonite-and-lock-in/

More recently, I’ve read (but haven’t written about yet): Sagan Diary (John Scalzi), The Mirror Empire (by Kameron Hurley), Evil Hat’s Atomic Robo, Randall Munroe’s What If, Tobias Buckell’s Arctic Rising, and Best Served Cold by Joe Abercombie. (The last was actually a reread… it’s excellent, but I’d forgotten that I’d read it before by title. The beginning’s pretty unmistakable and it was great, again.)

I just finished Sandman Slim. (I wasn’t a huge fan, mostly for subject and attitude, but did appreciate the pacing and world building.)

I’m currently reading a collection of short stories, Dangerous Women. The first stories have been very good.

29. October 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Roleplaying

An encounter with ISS Auerbach.

1. Normally a navigator of your skill would not be assigned to this sort of ship. Why are you here?
Not many people have been to Aleph-Seven. I got to know the sector well back when I served in the Navy—they were running lots of supplies to clandestine bases out here at the time. Since then, no one’s really bothered with the sector—the markets aren’t ripe here. I don’t know why our company is suddenly interested, but my familiarity with the sector was important enough for them to ask me about it when I interviewed.

2. Where did you get that scar?
When I was twelve, my family and I were riding horses in the outback. My horse shied when it saw a snake and tossed me from my saddle. I fell on a sharp rock and gashed my leg to the bone. I was panicked, but my parents didn’t call a medivac. They tore an old shirt into strips and wrapped it tightly, had me smoke some herb that numbed the pain a bit, and we continued with our vacation. I was miserable for the rest of the trip, but my parents wouldn’t bend. One more thing to set me apart, I guess.

3. Why don’t you like being the age you are?
I’m out of step with my peers, whose youth-boost has them looking twenty five well into their fifties. I look old, much older than my peers; it makes socialization hard. I worry that I’m being picked up because I’m a freak, because they’re cruising for an exotic.

4. You are normally very close to your family, but recently have fallen out of touch. Why?
Mom… I love her dearly, but she’s cutting herself off from the universe. She kept the faith, stayed orthodox and skeptical of the modern corrupting world. Recently she’s been sick and needs treatments that her faith doesn’t allow; she’s tired of fighting me over it, but I can’t just let her die for no good reason.
Dad hears me, but says he has to support her one-hundred percent. My sisters Becky, Marie, and Kesha have all turned inward, to their children and families. I love being an uncle, but space is large… it’s hard to keep up when I’m absent for such long stretches.

5. What piece of contraband have you smuggled aboard? Who else knows about it?

I have the embargoed communications of Tau Ceti Prime hidden on a memory crystal. It’s a six month log of the world’s communications—so many people so desperate to get their message out. I couldn’t resist the humanitarian cry, despite the black mark of the Junta in charge.

6. When do you feel most alone?
At 5:45 am, after my alarm has gone off and I need to rise for morning readings… but the chill of the corridor and the unpleasant sonics of the shower encourage me to huddle warm a few minutes longer.

7. Which member of the crew don’t you trust (i.e. the captain, the medic, the technician)? Why?

I don’t trust the doctor; it’s a hangover from my anti-medicine upbringing. I know that I’m a freak, thanks to my parent’s choices—who would voluntarily set their children up for the indignities of age when they are so easily prevented? But I’m old enough, and the treatment is so prevalent, that everyone—even the doctor—treats me like it was my choice.

8. Why are you also in charge of the inventory?

The navigator is a ship’s officer, but works in small groups or alone most of the time. They’re important, but no one wants to pay for the 90% of the trip when they’re not doing much, so they get assigned additional roles. Because they’re not leaders of men, they typically get assigned tracking and spreadsheet tasks and a crew that runs the day to day with little interference. Thus, I’m also the inventory control officer. I’m just happy they also didn’t also make me the trade accountant!

9. What hobby do you have that occasionally comes in handy?
I’m a rock climber and wilderness enthusiast. Most people look at my gray hair and wonder, but I really do enjoy getting back to nature and breathing non-canned air. You’d be amazed at how many navigators are the same way—people think we’re all about ship life, because that’s how they see us professionally, but given a chance, we get together and whitewater raft or hike alien worlds.

10. What disease do you fear most and why?
Alzheimer’s; so much of what I do is tied to remembering places and their connections. I don’t know if I’d still be me if I was unable to do my job, or remember all the fine details that make life, life.

11. What did you do during your last shore leave?
Sherri and I took in the cliffs of Manichego and hiked the eastern rim. The 0.85g made the exercise feel easy, and the atmosphere made the sunsets vibrant. The warm green sunsets were unreal—you couldn’t tell where the local grass analog stopped and the sky began.

12. What is your name?

I’m Deputy Commander Oriel, at your service.

27. October 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Roleplaying · Tags:

It’s such a good game. I’m still thinking about and being unsettled by it a week later.

In fact, I’d say it’s probably the best game I never want to play again.

That’s the close to a great review from Shut Up & Sit Down.

It sounds like one to pick up and try with the Indie RPG group, after we’re well gelled and comfortable. Dog Eat Dog.

07. October 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Books · Tags: ,

Ammonite by Nicola Griffith. I liked this book; it felt very LeGuin, in that our heroine is an anthropologist. Interestingly, she dives into the local culture, which happens to destabilize the overall situation (inadvertently). It’s a richly realized world, filled with interesting cultures.

Lock In by John Scalzi. It’s a good book; a thriller with a strong corruption/ politics/ wealth angle that feels very like today–or even more like a future today imagined by Piketty. At times it feels very like an extrapolation of today, and when it deviates (as it does dramatically with regards to remote operation) it’s a big deal. It was enjoyable, though I wanted a chance to get a little deeper with the characters. Chris has a lot of nuance by the end (as does his father, surprisingly), and Vann has some explanation, but most of the other characters aren’t on screen enough to reveal lots of depth.

It’s a good police procedural, made better with threeps and sci-fi generally.

05. October 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Roleplaying · Tags: ,

Last night Patrick, Tracy, Josh, and I played a “quick” game of My Life with Master. (Unfortunately, Jeff’s schedule and Josh’s prevented us from saving Lady Blackbird once again. We’ll save her one day soon.)

A villainous, nameless Master haunted a dark woods in lower Moldovia; often coalescing into the form of billowing mist or a dark cloaked figure with tendrils of fog snaking.

He was loyally served by Killian, who could seep through walls when not observed. Unfortunately, Killian was crippled by a fear of the illness in buildings and refused to breathe while inside one.

Darva maintained a house and baked cookies like a normal resident of the benighted town… but her words were incomprehensible to those grounded by work. She was supernaturally persuasive to children and the elderly… she racked up quite a body count in her service.

Alexi was traumatized by the death of his religious parents; he giggled whenever he read christian texts. He had the power to read anything, though… and he stuttered uncontrollably unless he was reading.

Let’s just say that they were horrible, horrible people.

Alexi attempted to corrupt Father Plankovich with a dark grimoire, and brought a dear librarian, Tilly, with him to the Vicscount’s home, where he punched the butler and dashed up the stairs, stole a book, and crashed through the windows to the unforgiving ground below. When he returned to the Master, he read out bloody and complicated rituals that set all of the minions on grisly tasks.

Killian began by terrorizing the men in a local fort, setting the barracks of fire with guardsmen inside, and throwing a guard walking the wall through the burning roof. Later he led a group of town elders to lurk behind trees and fire on a patrol of soldiers as they crossed the bridge into the woods; cloaking the soldiers in dank fog as he rushed forward and plunged his hatchet into their skulls.

Darva began by convincing her “sister”, Agnes, to wait until her parents were asleep, then take her clothes down to the living room and throw hot coals on the drapes, furniture, and her own heaped clothes. Later she had the children in the town’s orphanage join her at the side of the river; the largest bashed in a child’s head, then ran to attack approaching adults while she snapped the necks of the remaining younglings. The evening ended with her trying to acquire a platter of fear; two dozen prisoners for their waithlike master and his brethren to devour deep in the woods.

In the end, Alexi’s love for Tilly led him to resist a final fiendish command by the master, and brought peace to the land. Alexi and Darva integrated into the town. Killian “died” during an exorcism in the church, but a cloud of dank mist fled from his lungs out the windows… a new master in the making.

03. October 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: DnD, Roleplaying · Tags: ,

5e fan Resources from ENWorld.

Fresno Adventurer’s League: FB page, Warhorn

10 Gaming Blogs for 5e

Harbinger of Doom, and his Sorcery of Royal Bloodlines

From Detect Magic: Structure for making a story out of your personality. The example of showing the flaw through play is excellent, and easily expanded to cover all of your background elements.

22. September 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: DnD, Roleplaying · Tags: , ,

Pearl farming and the secret society of diviners is an interesting look at how when you mix real world limits with the abstraction of fantasy rules, you get something baroque and cool.

There are several related posts, which adapt guild dynamics, medieval foreign and domestic policy, and similar constraints to build up a sordid world. The first article tackles adventuring’s horrific disruption of local society, and is followed by how guilds and vested interests push your magic items out of town, and a darkly conceived little war.

They’re all excellent from a twisted GM’s perspective–they’re tremendous world building. But man they’d be frustrating to experience as a player. They’re a great read, even if it’s not right to actually use this twisted and wonderful logic in your worlds.