Books January 2023

Here’s the stuff I read and liked in January 2023.

Under Hill, By Water by Josh McCrowell

My gaming group’s current game. It’s silly. It’s fun. It suits what my group wants from games at the moment. And the Shire we’ve made has become something of a playground for revolving GMs. This is good. If your game group likes to have a small game on the back burner in case someone needs to take a break this game is perfect for that.

Inspiration for my solo game One Too Many.

The Peripheral by William Gibson

I enjoyed this, but could understand someone putting it down. The plot feels driverless. The idea of it, however, is fascinating. It’s hard to explain what’s going on in it. Basically a version of time travel exists but it only allows signals to pass between eras. This means it’s possible to skype and remote work in different timelines. And then of course there’s a murder.

A Stitch In Time by Andrew J. Robinson

A Star Trek novel about Garak written by the actor who played him. It shares some DNA with John Le Carre’s earlier (more genre) novels. Plotwise it’s pretty jumpy, but, honestly, Garak’s the only Star Trek character where shame and self-loathing are integral to the character and I can relate to that. I hear all this got retconned out of existence by the Picard show, which is too bad. It’s a fun read.

The Last Days of New Paris by China Mieville

A novel set in the 1950s in a Paris where World War Two remains ongoing and surrealism makes literal weapons. This read as a love letter to the Surrealists, but the best bits had more John Blanche (of Games Workshop/Warhammer fame) than Max Ernst.

The Cadaver of Gideon Wyck by Alexander Laing

This was a weird novel. Written and set in the 1930s, it’s very much for readers who read Lovecraft a decade earlier but had then moved on to mysteries. Gideon Wyck is an awful professor at an isolated medical school in rural New England. His experiments are decidedly strange and he earns the animosity of most everyone he meets. Various events unfold and the whole thing walks a fine line between a natural or supernatural explanation. A decent read, but pretty grisly at times in a clinically medical way.

One Too Many

One Too Many is a one-page game about being a hobbit who has had one too many drinks down at the pub and now has to walk home. Usually, the Shire is a peaceful place, but these days you can’t be so sure. Strange folk are on the roads: rangers, black riders, and even hobbit gangs running off with their family’s heirloom jewelry. Most nights, it’s a short walk from the pub to your front door. But tonight? Well, you never know.

Materials: a 6-sided die or two, paper and pencil to document your journey home. Make a story of it! 

One Too Many uses a hexflower to generate your journey. You can read more about Hex Flowers at this blog post. They are neat. Further inspiration came from the game Under Hill, By Water by Rise Up Comus

Note: In playtests it was possible to get stuck in loops. To mitigate this use the following house rule: you have 3 items with you (a pipe, a walking stick, and a handkerchief) and can sacrifice an item to roll three dice and choose whichever 2-dice combination you want. 

Here’s the link. Enjoy!

Orlando Furioso, Canto XLVI – THE END!

This is it. This is the end!

Ariosto starts with a bit of meta about himself being on board a ship and piloting it to shore where all his friends and favorite writers are there waiting eagerly for him. He thanks his patrons and their wives, their holdings, their subjects. Needless to say he goes on. (But I will admit if he you look up most of the people he mentions on wikipedia, such as Julia Gonzaga they’re interesting rabbit holes to get lost in.) At last, we get back to the story.

“Enough of this delay: the wind is right 

And of my course remains but little more.”

Everyone’s searching for Ruggiero. Melissa really wants Ruggiero and Bradamante to wed, so Melissa uses her magic powers to send spirits out searching for him. The spirits find him in the gloomy woods and Melissa hies herself over there. Along the way she bumps into Leon and convinces him to accompany her. 

They find Ruggiero near death. Leon asks why he suffers and Ruggiero explains the whole thing. He loves Bradamante and suffers for the sake of love, especially now that his actions have allowed him, Prince Leon, to marry her. Leon’s moved by all this and quite surprisingly he relinquishes any desire he had for Bradamante. He will not stand in Ruggiero’s way. At this, Melissa does another magic and brings all of them back to Paris.

Ruggiero recovers in an abbey. Frontino gets saddled. Ruggiero dons his armor again that hides who he is. All three head to court where they come upon a group of Bulgars. It turns out the Bulgars want to make Ruggiero their king. Leon then addresses the assembled court. 

He points to Ruggiero and says this is the knight who fought Bradamante. Everyone’s confused because they all thought it was Leon. Marfisa draws her sword and gets ready to attack the knight. It’s then that Ruggiero reveals who he is and at this everyone’s delighted. Marfisa embraces him. Orlando. Sobrino. The whole crew gives him hugs. Leon gives the full account. This moves everyone even Aymon, Bradamante’s dad. He relents and grants Ruggiero permission to marry his daughter. Of course, it also helps that Ruggiero is now also the King of the Bulgars. 

A wedding gets planned, and heralds travel the land proclaiming the news. Melissa magics over a pavilion from Turkey. It once belonged to Cassandra the Trojan Princess. The one who had the gift of prophecy, and the tent’s decorated all over with pictures from the life of Ariosto’s patron. Ruggiero and Bradamante stay there to entertain their guests. I don’t go into it here but Ariosto goes on and on about the pictures on the tent. 

In the end the wedding party goes on for nine days. On the ninth day there is a tumult. A fearsome knight approaches. Who’s this now? It’s Rodomonte.

Rodomonte was last seen taking a vow to pray for a year after his defeat at the hands of Bradamante. He’s heard all about Agramante’s defeat, but stuck to his vow. Only now that it’s done will he raise his hand. He rides into Paris showing the inhabitants contempt and makes straight to Ruggiero who he calls apostate for abandoning the faith. All the gathered knights are ready to fight on Ruggiero’s behalf, but he’s like no, I got this. 

And so a duel commences. The last duel.

It’s the usual lance shattering escapade. Swords are drawn. Horses gambol nimbly as their riders slash and make stabbity-stabbity upon each other. Balisard is much to be feared, especially since Rodomonte abandoned his dragon scale armor after his defeat at Bradamante’s hand. But his strength is great. Soon he’s smashing Ruggiero on the head until the poor knight’s stunned. Rodomonte’s sword shatters. Enraged, he lifts Ruggiero from Frontino’s saddle and throws him to the ground. The crowd gasps. Bradamante’s face turns crimson with rage and fear. Seeing this Ruggerio steadies himself. Rodomonte spurs his horse forward. Ruggiero stabs him in the leg and thigh. He drags Rodomonte down from the horse. They stand there a moment, gasping. Rodomonte throws the remnants of his sword at Ruggiero. Ruggiero’s stunned. Rodomonte charges, but the wound in his leg makes him slip. Ruggiero wastes no time and charges. Rodomonte’s knocked down, but he gets up gain. He takes hold of Ruggiero and puts him in a clinch. It’s now a full on wrestling match with Rodomonte losing blood the whole while. At last, Ruggiero manages to break free and throw Rodomonte across the ground. Rodomonte makes to stand but barely can. His blood loss is too great. Ruggiero crosses over to him and kneels on his chest. Out comes a dagger.

“Ruggiero holds the dagger at the sights 

Of Rodomonte’s helm; he makes it clear 

By threats that his surrender he invites, 

And says that in exchange his life he’ll spare.”

Rodomonte tries to throw Ruggiero off. Realizing this is hopeless, he draws his own dagger. It’s poised to strike Ruggiero in the back. But Ruggiero sees it there and knows Rodomonte will never surrender. 

Only death will end this feud. 

“He plunged his dagger in that awesome brow, 

Retrieving it not once, but more than twice.”

And so Rodomonte dies, a dagger to the eyes. And that’s it. Another few lines as Rodomonte’s soul flies free and then Finis

The end. 

The book is over. 

Done. 

Pretty wild, huh?

CANTO SCORE CARD

Knights: Ruggiero, Prince Leon, Marfisa, Bradamante, Rinaldo, Orlando, Dudone, Oliver, Sobrino, King Charles, Rodomonte

Parents: Aymon

Mages: Melissa

Horses: Frontino

Swords: Balisarda

Magic Items: Cassandra’s Pavilion, Hector’s Armor worn by Ruggiero

Orlando Furioso, Canto XLV

The penultimate canto… let’s do it!

To start we get some expounding on the nature of fortune and how “Good follows Evil, Evil follows Good, shame ends in glory, glory ends in shame.” Ruggiero has just wrought havoc upon the Greeks. Now he wants to sleep. He arrives at an inn but is recognized. The Greek king has him abducted, and the king’s sister urges him to treat Ruggiero harshly since he killed her son in the battle. In the end Ruggiero gets locked away in some deep dungeon full of snakes, where he’s chained around hands and feet and forced to eat moldy bread. 

Back in France, word spreads about Bradamante’s oath to only marry a man who can defeat her in battle. This has made her parents furious. Much moping ensues.     

Back in Greece, Prince Leon hears how the knight that defeated the price’s army is being held captive in a dungeon. Leon “loves” this knight because his kink is apparently masochistic self-destruction by proxy. He goes down to the dungeon with his assassin henchmen. They trick the gaoler to open the prisoner’s cell, then the henchman kills the gaoler. 

They go into the cell where Ruggiero is on the brink of death. Leon professes his love/admiration for Ruggiero and together all leave the dungeon, Ruggiero pledging himself to assist Leon in any way he would wish. It’s about now that Bradamante’s challenge to any suitor reaches Leon, and he starts hatching a plan. 

We can all see where this is going here. 

Leon will accept the challenge, then he’ll have Ruggiero fight wearing his armor, then when Ruggiero defeats Bradamante, he’ll say it was himself and marry her. 

When Ruggiero hears the plan he gets all torn and twisted. But chivalry is chivalry and his word is his bond and all that. He accepts and they head off for Paris. There’s a good bit here where Ruggiero hammers the edge off his blade so as not to harm Bradamante, while Bradamante sharpens her sword thinking she’s going to have a chance to kill Prince Leon. 

The duel begins. 

Bradamante’s doing her best, but Ruggiero is like a rock. This goes on all day. Finally the sun goes down, and since Bradamante couldn’t defeat the challenger it’s declared that she lost and was bested. Ruggiero however doesn’t stick around. Once he can he rides straight away returning to Leon. Leon’s delighted. He showers Ruggiero with hugs and kisses. Once that’s done Ruggiero rides off to mope in the nearest dark forest.  

Meanwhile Bradamante’s pretty upset. She doesn’t want to marry Leone and is thinking of poisoning him. Fortunately, she has a pal in Marfisa who goes to King Charles and says Bradamante can’t marry Leone because she already married Ruggiero in a ceremony she witnessed. This sends the court into a tizzy. Prince Leone is disappointed but takes things in stride. It’s Aymon, Bradamante’s dad who is a complete ass over this news. How can a Christian marry a Muslim? Etc. Etc. Assholery. 

King Charles can’t decide what’s what, so Marfisa steps in again and says how about we have Ruggiero fight Leone and decide it that way. Leon says that’s fine. He thinks he can have his secret knight fight Ruggiero. (Yeah, he doesn’t know the knight’s name only that he is a great warrior.) But when he gets back to his tents, there’s no Ruggiero there and no one can tell him where he’s gone.  

One canto left!

CANTO SCORE CARD

Knights: Ruggiero, Ungiardo, Bradamante, Leon the Greek Prince, Marfisa, King Charlemagne

Awful Parents: Constantine the Greek King, Theodora his sister, Aymon, Beatrice 

Swords: Balisard

Horses: Frontino 

Henchmen: Assassin

Magic Items: Hector’s Armor

Orlando Furioso, Canto XLIV

We start with everyone in the hermit’s cell congratulating Ruggiero. When Rinaldo learns Ruggiero’s betrothed to his sister he’s delighted by the news. Unfortunately, Ariosto reveals the fact that their parents already pledged Bradamante’s hand to Leon, the Greek prince of Byzantium. Neither Rinaldo nor Bradamante’s knows about this yet, so Rinaldo has no reason not to be delighted. 

I gotta hand it to Ariosto. He’s down to the last three cantos and he’s still going to introduce a love triangle. 

Everybody goes back to France except Prester John who goes back to Africa. When he and his army get there all their magic boats and horses turn back into leaves and rocks. Astolfo flies back to France on the hippogriff, but releases it when he arrives there. This was part of his pledge to Saint John back in the Earthly paradise. His horn’s also lost its power. He reaches Marseilles just as everyone else is arriving. Charlemagne greets them all and there’s much rejoicing. The war’s over. The Christians have won. Everything is great, until Rinaldo mentions to his dad how happy he is to have Ruggiero as a brother-in-law. And that’s when the truth is revealed. Ruggiero’s practically a beggar. Bradamante can’t marry him. They’ve arranged her marriage to Prince Leon. 

This triggers all sorts of trouble. Bradamante and Ruggiero get mopey and depressed, because of course they do. Rinaldo and Bradamante can’t disobey their parents. Still, Bradamamnte goes to Charlemagne and gets him to agree that no man may marry her unless they defeat her in battle. This angers her parents who drag Bradamamnte off to one of their fortresses. And this sends Ruggiero spiraling, and being the man of violence he is he figures the only way to solve this problem is to go to Greece and kill Prince Leon. 

Leon and his dad are at the moment waging war on the Bulgars and doing all right. The Bulgars are nearly crushed, and would have been if not for Ruggiero showing up during the decisive battle. He rallies the Bulgars and sends the Greeks running. Unfortunately he can’t get his hands on either Prince Leon or his dad. But all his violence impresses Prince Leon, and the Prince falls in love with Ruggiero. Now that’s kinky! The Bulgars plan on giving their kingdom to Ruggiero, but he takes off after Leon before they can. They both take shelter in the same city. The ruler of it gets word to King Constantine, saying the mysterious knight who defeated his armies is here. The King wants the knight captured, and so…

Until next canto!

CANTO SCORE CARD

Knights: Ruggiero, Orlando, Astolfo, Oliver, Sobrino, Rinaldo, Marfisa, Bradamante, Prince Leon and his dad King Constantine, King Vatran of the Bulgars, Ungiardo (a vassal of Constantine’s) 

Awful Parents: Aymon, Beatrice

Swords: Balisarda

Horses: Frontino

Mages: Holy Hermit

Monsters: Hippogriff

Orlando Furioso, Canto XLIII

This is a long canto mostly about cuckoldry. There’s been a good bit of that so far, but in this canto they dial the cuck to 11. (My apologies to everyone.) 

If Orlando Furioso was the most popular novel for everyone in Europe for centuries and the basis of countless paintings, operas, and ideas, then much of Western CultureTM is based on the very cishet male question of “What’s my girl up to when I’m not around?”

“A husband who desires to know  

All that his wife has ever done or said 

Will from contentment fall to pain and grief 

And never henceforth will he find relief”

When last we left Rinaldo was being tested with the cup of cuckoldry. 

If he could drink from the cup without it spilling, then he could be certain his wife (Clarice) was faithful to him. But if the cup spilled… well, we all have internet connections don’t we? Rinaldo’s shook and doesn’t know what to do. Does he drink and test the truth, or does he not drink and believe what he wants is the truth? In the end he opts not to drink. His host commends him as that is the wisest choice. The one he wishes he had made.  

And so begins a tale. 

The knight fell in love with a wizard’s daughter. She never knew a man until she met him. But he had known many women. Still, he received the wizard’s approval and married the daughter. Five years went by in conjugal bliss. Eventually the wizard died, and after that a sorceress in the neighborhood fell in love with him. Her name was Melissa. I assume this is the same Melissa who’s helped Bradamante a few times so far. She seemed fine then, but in this story she’s the villain.

The knight rejects Melissa. So she changes her tactics and starts planting doubts about his wife’s fidelity in his head. She thinks it would be wise for the knight to test the wife by leaving town for a bit. Before he goes Melissa brings out the cup and explains how it operates. Our guy can drink from it fine before he leaves town. The test will be how it works when he comes back. Or so I thought, but instead he leaves, has Melissa change his appearance to that of neighboring cavalier, and then the two return in disguise flashing gold and jewels. In this disguise he badgers his wife and tells her he will give her all this wealth if he could sleep with her just once. She, at last, says yes at which point our guy throws off his disguise. The wife is shamed and the two are furious at each other. When the morning arrives, the wife abandons the castle and goes straight to the neighboring cavalier’s house where she now lives quite happily. 

Rinaldo’s not so sympathetic to the knight and his response is an eloquent mix of “Sucks to be you” and “It’s your own damn fault, because even steel and stone can be made to break.” In the morning the sad knight gets his boatmen to row Rinaldo down river to speed him on his journey. 

Cue Ariosto going tour guide for a bit. Sermise they passed. Then Figarola and Stellata, etc. There’s also a long bit about Malagigi predicting how one city will be raised to greatness, which is likely a place where Ariosto owned property. Eventually he starts thinking about the cup and whether he was right to not drink from it. The steersman noticed his brooding and asks what’s bothering him. Rinaldo presents his case and asks if he reasoned right. The steersman says he did, because it’s like this other story about a guy who sought to punish his wife for a crime he himself committed.

And so begins another tale.

This one is about a judge named Anselmo, his wife Argla, and a guy named Adonio. Argla loved Anselmo too much and too well, and that made Anselmo suspicious. Meanwhile Adonio was a young cavalier in love with Argla. He spends all his money trying to impress her, fails, goes broke, and has to leave town disguised as a beggar. On his way he manages to rescue a snake from some peasants then continues on his journey, wandering for seven years. After that time he comes back still in love with Argla and more a beggar now then when he left. It’s around now that Anselmo gets called out of town. Before he goes he begs and pleads with Argla to stay faithful to him. He has no reason to expect she will cheat on him, except his one insecurity and a prediction a fortune teller made. Still, the king bids him go, so go he must.   

It’s around now that Adonio comes back to town, and as he does he stops by the place where he rescued the snake. Well, of course that snake was a sorceress in disguise and her name’s Manto. She’s going to repay Adonio for his help by getting Argla to fall in love with him. First, she coaches Adonio in all the right ways to behave, then she transforms herself into the cutest little dog. And not just any cute af dog, but a cute af dog that can dance and sheds gold coins and jewels when she’s pet. Thus armed, they go to town and before long Argla’s heard about the dog and asks to buy it. Adonio names his price and Argla accepts and…

“Adonio long enjoyed the fruit he plucked.”

By and by Anselmo returns and his fortune teller tells him how his wife definitely cheated. The news pierces his heart. He comes back and starts in on questioning, but doesn’t get anywhere until Argla falls out with her nurse and the nurse reveals the whole thing. Anselmo goes mad and hires an assassin to kill Argla, but before the assassin can do it Argla vanishes (due to Manto’s magic spell). 

Assassination botched, Anselmo really starts fretting. Argla’s going to shack up with someone and he’ll be a laughing stock, or worse this someone will be a panderer and start pimping her out. OH NO! What to do? He sends messengers out searching for her and eventually goes to where the assassin said she disappeared. When he arrives he’s surprised to find a palace there with a hideous “Ethiop” outside. Anselmo asks who owns the place. The Ethiop says he does and would Anselmo like a tour. The place inside is full of gold and jewels and the Ethiop would part with it all if Anselmo would let him sleep with his wife. It takes a few attempts, but of course Anselmo agrees to pimp out his wife (just like he feared someone else would do.) Argla jumps out and is like “You hypocrite!” The Ethiop and palace vanish. The two make-up and decide to never talk about these events again. I don’t remember what happened to Adonio, but I suspect he got to keep plucking. 

Tale done, Rinaldo and the steersman have a laugh. Then it’s back to Ariosto tour guide. Romagna, Filo, Ravenna, until at last Rinaldo reaches the island just as Orlando kills Gradasso and Agramante. They get Oliver out from under his horse, gather the bodies, and go back to Biserta.

Astolfo and Sansonetto break the news of Brandimarte’s death to Fiordiligi. She reacts as you expects she would by going completely ape-shit. Wailing. Gnashing teeth. Pulling out her own hair. They lock her up in her room. 

There’s then a lot about Brandimarte’s funeral. Everyone cries. Orlando. Fiordiligi. Some guy named Bardino I first thought was a horse. 

After the funeral Fiordiligi moves into the tomb and all the knights leave her there. They go to seek a doctor for Oliver. A sailor tells them about an island with a holy hermit on there and says that if anyone can heal Oliver it would be that guy, so that’s where they go. Of course this is the place where Ruggiero is and the hermit the same one who baptized him. There’s a reunion. The hermit heals Oliver. Sobrino, who’s just been hanging out with these guys who all recently tried to kill him, sees the miracle and converts to Catholicism right then and there. They then go to greet Ruggiero and learn what news he brings.  

CANTO SCORE CARD

Knights: Rinaldo, Sad Cuckold Cup knight, Adonio, Anselmo, Orlando, Oliver, Astolfo, Sansonetto, Sobrino, Ruggiero

Damsels: Clarice? Unnamed woman in 1st story, Argla, Fiordiligi

Mages: Melissa, Malagigi, Manto, Holy Hermit

Magic Items: The Cuckold’s Cup

Orlando Furioso, XLII

We start in slow motion as Orlando watches Brandimarte fall. Fury once more returns to him and he stalks over to King Agramante and removes the king’s head before Gradasso can react. 

Next it’s Gradasso’s turn and soon he’s dead. Sobrino this whole time bleeding out on the ground. Then Orlando goes to Brandimarte whose head is half split. His last word is “Fiordiligi” and then he’s dead. Orlando frees Oliver from beneath the horse and they return to their tents, carrying Sobrino along with them. 

There’s a funny aside about a guy named Fulgoso who questions the accuracy of Ariosto’s story. A dude flew to the moon, bruv, and you’re hung up on whether Lampedusa was large enough to hold a fight between six knights? 

That done Orlando looks out and sees a boat approaching. But before Ariosto tells us who that is, it’s off to Bradamante, who’s back to being all emo again. 

I tell you. These two, 

Bradamante and Ruggiero? 

Complete trainwreck people. 

Sure, they’re deeply in love, but the second they’re apart it’s like they’re expecting the worst of the other and ready to commit suicide. Bradamante is back to thinking Ruggiero hates her. She mopes to Melissa. She mopes to Marfisa. It’s Marfisa that tells her to get a grip. Ruggiero’s an honorable man. Etc. Etc. Bradamante is calmed… for now.

But what happens next is a complete side track. Ariosto switches to Rinaldo, who’s been chasing Angelica since the start of this book. He’s all messed up about her and sends people out to find where’s she gone. Eventually, Rinaldo seeks out Malagigi and that one uses his magic to discover how Angelica slept with Medoro and left with him for Asia. He tells all this to Rinaldo who does what all sullen men do when unlucky in love. They seek out someone to do violence upon. Rinaldo sets off east saying he wants to get his horse Baiardo back. He sets off and promptly encounters a monster. 

This monster is a monstrous female figure covered in lidless eyes, ears, and snakes. This monster gets Rinaldo in her clutches and won’t let go, even when he tries to run away. He thinks all is lost, but before right before the end another knight rides up. He drives the snake away with his flaming mace. Then he takes Rinaldo to a pool where the waters will quench his thirst and free him from his obsession for Angelica. When Rinaldo asks the knight’s name, the knight says his name is Scorn, and like that he disappears. 

I guess this whole interlude was an allegory about unworthy women should be scorned or something. Actually, this whole Rinaldo bit now and in the next canto is heavy with Kubler-Ross stages of grief for relationships allegories.  

Rinaldo wonders what that was all about, but he’s glad to hate Angelica now and no longer love her. He continues on. Somewhere in Switzerland he hears how there’s to be a duel between Agramante and Orlando, and so he decides to make for that. Soon after he encounters another knight who offers to put Rinaldo up for the night.

It’s then that the men start talking about matrimony. We learn that Rinaldo has a wife. Night comes. Rinaldo and his host sit beside a great fountain where statues of women are kept on pedestals. This fountain gets described in intricate detail. All the statues give Ariosto a chance to commend the virtues of his female contemporaries. The host asks if Rinaldo wants to make a wager. Wager? Yes, wager. Does he think his wife is virtuous? 

You see the host says he has a cup that spills before you can drink it if your wife is cheating on you. 

What do you say Rinaldo? Care to see if you can drink from it?    

CANTO SCORE CARD

Knights: Orlando, Brandimarte, King Agramante, Oliver, Sobrino, Gradasso, Marfisa, Rinaldo, King Charlemagne, 

Swords: Durindana, Balisarda

Mages: Melissa, Malagigi

Damsels: Clarice (Rinaldo’s wife), Angelica (they’ve been slut-shaming her fierce, but she and Medoro got out of this the happiest)

Magic Items: Flaming Mace of Scorn, Cuckold’s Cup, 

Monsters: The Monstrous Female With a Thousand Lidless Eyes, Scorn (looks like a knight)

Orlando Furioso, Canto XLI

In this installment we are once again reminded that things have names. 

Knights have names. 

Horses have names. 

Swords have names. 

Also much cross-cutting ensues. 

On land Dudone knows he’s beat. Ruggiero hasn’t been giving his all. They decide to cease fighting. Dudone asks what Ruggiero wants as a prize and he says some of your prisoners. (There are seven Saracen kings here and they all have names I can’t bother remembering.) Dudone hands these people over and they along with Ruggiero set sail. As soon as they do the weather turns and before long they’re all stuck in a great storm. The captain and crew make to abandon ship. Ruggiero does the same. He leaves his armor, weapons, and horse behind and leaps overboard. Everyone else apparently dies, but he manages to swim to an island. There he meets a hermit and the hermit teaches Ruggiero his cathechism and baptizes him. 

There’s also something about having seven years yet to live but it’s okay because you’ll found this awesome family and they’ll grow so powerful that they can hire this guy named Ariosto to write your whole life story. 

Meanwhile the ship that Ruggiero abandoned survives the storm and reaches Africa where it washes up near Orlando and the Gang. Inside are Ruggiero’s weapons and stuff. This being Balisarda (sword) and Frontino (horse). They’re pleased with this and Orlando doles out the gear. There’s an aside here about Fiordiligi who wails so much at the leaving of Brandimarte that Astolfo and Sansonetto have to drag her back to her chambers where she promptly takes to bed, but not before weaving Brandimarte a black surcoat decorated with jewels. Then it’s off to the island where King Agramant waits.   

They get there too late to fight, so it’s nighty-knight. During the night Brandimarte goes over and visits the Saracens because he and King Agramante were once great friends. We get a bit of Brandimarte back story here. He was a Saracen up until he fell in love with / met Orlando. And now he wants Agramante to quit being Muslim and get baptized, but Agramante is like get the flip outta my face knave. And honestly, I don’t blame him. Brandimarte totally comes off as a missionary tool during this bit. In general Brandimarte is mostly a tool.      

Morning comes and it’s time for the melee. 

On the Christian side are Oliver, Orlando, and Brandimarte. On the Saracen side are Agramante, Gradasso, and Sobrino. Gradasso has Durindana (sword) and Baiard (horse) and Orlando has Balisarda (sword) and Unnamed  (horse). 

The fight is exciting stuff. Big steel cage tag team champs Wrestlemania vibes. Orlando’s horse gets knocked out. Agramante goes after Oliver. Brandimarte knocks Sobrino clear out of the saddle. Brandimarte goes to help Orlando. Gradasso fights Brandimarte. Sobrino gets up. Orlando knocks down Sobrino and climbs on a horse. He makes to assist Brandimarte. Gradasso turns to fight him. Sobrino gets back on his feet and backstabs Oliver’s horse. Horse and rider Tumbe. Brandimarte goes to help his friend. Agramante rushes in. Swords flash. Graddaso knocks down Orlando. He turns and Brandimarte’s about to kill his king. He rushes in. And orlando wakes up in time to see his beloved Brandimarte struck down.

“And from his charger Brandimarte fell, 

And with blood which from his head drained 

In widening crimson streaks 

the sand was veined.”

Orlando charges Gradasso, and that’s where Ariosto ends the canto. 

Pure cliffhanger material.  

You might get some more of these this week and next. There are five cantos left and I would like to be done with this project by December 31st. 

CANTO SCORE CARD

Knights: Dudone, Ruggiero, Seven Saracen Kings, Orlando, Brandimarte, Oliver, Astolfo, Sansonetto, Agramante, Gradasso, Sobrino,  

Damsels: Fiordiligi the Tragic

Horses: Frontino (formerly Ruggiero’s, now Brandimarte’s), Baiard (Gradasso’s horse that belonged to someone else before), Brigliador (Agramante’s horse),

Swords: Balisarda (formerly Ruggiero’s, now Orlando’s), Durindana (formerly Orlando’s now Gradasso’s)

Mages: Falerina the witch who forged Balisarda, a Hermit

INTO THE MYSTS

So after that TPK I mentioned a few posts ago, I switched my game over to Into the Odd.

We’re still using Mysthead 4 and going for a sword & sorcery vibe. I’ve added things like Cairn’s spell list and Weird North’s corruption into the mix. I’ve put links to all these games below. I also really like the idea of archetypes from Weird North and have made bespoke archetypes for my players. I’m not sure if this will be at odds with the initial semi-disposable nature of ItO characters as presented in the book*. It’ll be an interesting experiment.

Here are the archetypes and their abilities if you want to use them in your own game. Yes, some of them riff off the archetypes in the Weird North book. Also as you can see I use some other house rules like a refresh die and letting players burn a stat to get a bonus or recover an ability:

TRIBAL BEAST SINGER (AKA the Bard/Ranger)

GEAR: D8 hand weapon or a D6 missile weapon and D6 hand weapon, 2 random spell flutes, tribal clothes (armor 1), small net (can hold 1 medium sized or smaller creature), rope, Pack (3 days food, bedroll, torch)

ABILITIES (pick two, gain another when you trigger prestige)

  • Wind Carver: spend a week carving a flute to gain a random spell
  • Endless Tune: your spell tunes refresh on a 6. Take again to lower by one point. Other refresh rules apply.
  • Naturalist: spend an hour listening to nature to learn a truth
  • Nimble: advantage on DEX saves
  • Animal Companion: an animal like a hound, hawk, snake etc. accompanies you. You can communicate with it.
  • Friends in Small Places: pick a small type of creature (mice, rats, songbirds, spiders) – you can command them to perform simple tasks for you
  • Keen-Ears: never surprised
  • Tracker: can track a single quarry across any terrain
  • Pathfinder: pick a point on land, you will always know which path to take to reach that place

PRESTIGE: recover a treasure …. And ??? (everyone has two: recover a treasure is the same for all… but the other one is more bespoke and I don’t remember what we decided here. Tame an animal?)

Refresh: roll a D6, on a 6 you regain the ability. Refreshes automatically after a night’s rest. Can be refreshed after a short rest in lieu of HP.

***

THE CULTIST’S CHILD (AKA What if Tieflings were less sexy and more like something from John Carpenter’s The Thing?)

GEAR: 2 daggers (D6) 2 spells (random) Leather armor (1) Grappling hook 1 random item Pack (3 days food, bedroll, torch)

ABILITIES (pick two)

  • Grow a random boil for a random spell effect (refresh 6 or spend D6 DEX to auto refresh)
  • Third eye: can see spirits and invisible creatures (usually closed and unseen)
  • Vomit blast (D6 blast, refresh 6)
  • Scales (+1 armor)
  • Poison Immunity (ingested)
  • Toxic Immunity (environmental)
  • Rubber joints – can slip out of bonds and squeeze through narrow spaces
  • Iron mind: makes will saves with advantage
  • Quick Recovery – reduce refresh by 1
  • Physical modification (gills, wings, hooves, tail)

PRESTIGE: recover a treasure, defeat a planar being

Refresh: roll a D6, on a 6 you regain the ability. Refreshes automatically after a night’s rest. Can be refreshed after a short rest in lieu of HP.

***

The Botanist (AKA the Botanist)

GEAR: D6 Weapon, 2 random potions, Armor 1, Sample Pack, Tea set: (Kettle, Mortar/Pestle), Pack (3 days food, bedroll, torch)

BASE ABILITY: Brew tea (spend an hour to collect and brew a healing tea that heals 2D6 single stat damage from one person, or 2 points single stat damage from multiple [max. 6])

Bonus abilities: (pick one now, get another when you trigger prestige)

  • Naturalist: can craft potions and objects of minor power from salvaged monster parts.
  • Plant speech: sit for an hour in silence communing with nature to learn a truth
  • Call plants: you can command plants to grow faster (refresh 6)
  • Survivalist: Can always find the safest path forward while on land.
  • Forager: can always find an herb or ID a plant.
  • Soothing Balm: can heal D6HP from self or another if you are not moving or attacking

PRESTIGE: Recover a treasure, make a discovery

***

Right now they’re stuck between menaces along with a researcher and a hapless mercenary. You can see them all up there in the picture at the top of this post. Deviltoads one way, magic portal to an alien hive the other.

Maybe they’ll escape…

* When I played Electric Bastionland part of the fun was that random character matrix of failed careers you could be. So if your character died the loss was blunted by getting the chance to play some other weirdo. The way I’m running things the characters are still as squishy as EB characters, but it took two days to come up with their bespoke archetype abilities. I suspect this will likely bite me in the butt eventually.

LINKS:

Into the Odd and Electric Bastionland

Weird North

Cairn

Mysthead

Orlando Furioso, Canto XL

I humbly beg your apologies. Last post I said that Orlando was the captain of the fleet, but I was wrong. It’s actually Dudone the Dane who is the captain. Mea culpa. I will find myself a suitable rock with which to pound my chest.

We start with a big sea battle that goes badly for the Saracens. Dudone employs Greek fire and soon Agramante’s fleet is ablaze. Agramante escapes, but the illustration paints a grim picture. 

Back in Africa, we find Orlando, Astolfo, and the gang getting ready to attack Biserta. There are prayers. In the city the whole Muslim population turns out to pray for protection. This is all a call back to when Rodomonte attacked Paris back in canto whatever (it was Canto XVI). 

Battle ensues. It’s grisly as we have come to accept from previous instances. Brandimart climbs a ladder but it breaks before his men can follow him, so he gets stranded in the city. Honestly, Brandimart seems a shit knight. Ariosto keeps saying he is one of the best, an equal almost to Orlando, but whenever we read about him he’s getting kicked in the nuts by events. The Patroclus vibes are strong with him.

Despite being stuck in the city Brandimart hacks and hews his way through the inhabitants. Again shades of Rodomonte here inside the walls of Paris, but, unlike the savage Rodomonte, Brandimart doesn’t slay his own troops and rush off before his comrades can reach him. When they do reach him, the battle’s won and it’s off to killing, looting, raping, and pillaging which Ariosto mentions. 

So well done, fellows. True paladins of the faith. 

From there it’s back to Agramante on a boat – or is it back to Dudone (Dude-One?) on a boat – or is it back to Ruggiero who has set off to find Agramante and ask him if he really and truly broke his oath about the duel fought back a few cantos ago? Anyway, it’s one of those things. Agramante encounters Gradasso on an island and they propose sending a messenger to Orlando saying let’s you and your crew fight me and my crew. Orlando accepts but lacks the weapons to do so with honor (Gradasso has his sword right now). Despite this he equips himself as well as he can and sets out with Oliver and Brandimarte. Meanwhile Ruggiero encounters the burnt ships of Agramante’s fleet and sets off along the coast only to encounter Dudone. Dudone attacks him. He fights with an iron club. But the club has no name. That’s all left unresolved when the canto ends.

Next time I don’t know what will happen, but I assume someone will get punched. Or we’ll be thrown to some other place and hear the names of another thousand characters. Until then! 

CANTO SCORE CARD

Knights: King Agramante, Dude-one the Dane, Orlando, Astolfo, Sansonetto, King Branzardo (ruler of Biserta), Prester John, Oliver, Brandimarte, King Bucifar (ruler of Algaziers), Sobrino (Agramante’s councillor), Ruggiero  

Horses: Brigliadoro (Orlando’s horse with King Agramante), Baiardo (someone’s horse Astolfo’s? Rinaldo’s? currently with Gradasso)

Swords: Durindana (Orlando’s sword with Gradasso), Balisard (Ruggiero’s sword)