Archive | September 2015

Stars Without Number 001 – Welcome to Hades Gamma Sector

hades gamma sectorStarted running a Stars Without Number game here in town. We’ll see how long it lasts. The last space game I ran used FATE as its core system and for all the good stuff in that system, I never could get the players scared for their characters’ lives. I’ve run SWN a few times before*, and this time around I’m trying to keep my penchant for killing everyone in deep freeze. So far it’s been fun. One thing I’ve done is not create much beforehand. The first session was rolling up characters and worlds and running with the randomness to build the setting. (This hands-off approach was aided by the fact that I had food poisoning at the time, so what might have been the first adventure just turned into 45 minutes of dice rolling before cabbing home in a cold sweat.)

While SWN would be a great system to run a Fading Suns Baroque SF style game, right now I’m defaulting to Futurama and Firefly, which everyone seems happy with. The player characters started in prison. They escaped on board a smuggler ship operated by a murderous nutcase. They picked up a passenger searching for her family fortune. In transit to the next starport they managed to kill the nutcase and takeover the ship. They landed and got a crash course in interplanetary economics and bill paying. Now they’ve lined up a new job with a high risk to high profit ratio, and that will be next week.

Things I like about running more modern-era games: it’s so much easier to find better pictures to show players. There’s just a wealth of stuff to pull from. What does the mutinous nutcase smuggler captain look like? Here you go. Sid Haig from Galaxy of Terror.

galaxy of terror - sid haig

Say hello to Santiago Jones.

The gangster who owns the party’s ship is Jim Jarmusch, the grizzled NPC¬† with the map to a lost ship supposedly containing a fortune is Harry Dean Stanton from Alien, the security chief at the starport is Pacific Rim’s Rinko Kikuchi, etc.

Or maybe I just dig Syd mead over Frank Frazetta, and I’m able to admit that now.

Another thing I want from games is for combat to be a deadly, panicked experience, and it’s easier to achieve that in games with shotguns. Having a six-shot revolver makes every missed attack stressful. I also stole a bit from 5e and made a successful tactics roll allow for the possibility of advantage on an attack roll because I had no idea what else to do with the tactics skill.

We still haven’t gone too deeply into space combat and psionics, despite one character being a psychic, but it’s been fun to witness this mass of random stuff emerge into a nascent story. What started as, “I’m a pilot *rolls* named Phil from *rolls* Upton which is a *rolls* space station where *rolls* men are second-class citizens” is now fueling the story, and it’s neat how the characters are starting to inhabit the random names they rolled up in odd ways. Esteban Zhukov, former commando, is now just Zhukov. Phillip Maeda, cocky starship pilot, got reduced to Phil. And Rana Bai, psychic historian, remains Rana Bai and don’t call her anything else. I’ve played games where people show up to the table with four typed single-spaced pages of backstory, and this is just so much more enjoyable.

All of which is to say, you can expect some game posts in the future. Play updates, background stuff, more pictures from forgotten movies, etc.

* The longest running table game we’ve had was a year long Beyond the Wall game. Unfortunately, the nature of migrant worker (AKA expat) life is high turnover rate. People come and go. Good game groups dry up, new groups have to form, and finding decent folks to game with takes time. It’s all topsy-turvy and sometimes you end up with situations where there are gamers to game with but they don’t meet your requirements**. This actually was what did in the 5e game and the FATE game.

** My requirements: would I want to hang out with the person for a nongame activity? If yes, then they meet my requirements.

Alleycon 2015

This past weekend I went to Gwangju for Alleycon, a fan con that wants to be a meeting place for local geeks, nerds, and dorks. A trifecta I identify with in variable proportions. It was a four hour bus ride, and overall a pretty good time, but a different vibe from last year. The biggest difference being due to the venue change from a university to a design building, which is the difference between 30 people filling a classroom and 30 people milling around a cavernous loft space. Not sure what the attendance numbers were but it felt emptier. I was also a little sad that there was no book swap. But I played a ton of games, met new people, and had a fun time. Not to mention you have to give credit to folks running a con. They’re up against a lot of expectations, and the whole effort smacks of the Sisyphean. Mishaps will occur. Folks will be discomfited. You’ll get blamed for it. And all for what? You’re not being paid and are just doing this out of love and an urge to do something for the community. So, hats off to the volunteers and folks running the con.

I hope they have it again next year. It’s a good thing those folks do. They do seem to be making the effort to build a community and inviting people to join them.

YesterWeird: The Monk by Matthew Lewis, Chapters 10, 11 & 12

I finished the book two months ago. I finish the posts now.

This has been a crazy book. Dracula’s got nothing on the Monk.

Chapter 10 and we’re back with the dudebros, Lorenzo and the Marquis. They’ve assembled a group of archers and are all set to apprehend the mother superior from the convent of Saint Claire at the big parade. And what a parade it is. Since this is an English man writing about the Spanish, the parade’s a long litany of sumptuousness atop a cake of voluptuousness with a garnish of religiosity because this book’s all about pagan Catholicism. Matthew Lewis (and Frank Miller) are why shit like this exists.

PVC clothing just breathes so well.

PVC clothing just breathes so well.

We’re also introduced to Virginia De Villa-Franca, the most beautiful girl in all of Madrid, who’s dressed like Saint Claire herself. If Lorenzo’s heart did not already belong to Antonia, it would belong to Virginia, etc.

The Marquis finally steps in mid-parade and apprehends the prioress and mother St. Ursula. The prioress is like, “Shit, I’m dead” and Ursula is like, “You’re so dead” and proceeds to spill the whole horrible truth about what happened to Agnes as the woman witnessed it. Agnes was poisoned and buried in a crypt below the convent.

Unfortunately, this story gets told in the street in front of spectators, all of whom promptly take hold of the prioress, trample her to death in the street, and then proceed to riot. Our valiant Dudebro duo find themselves helping the nuns against the mob and try to protect the convent, but things don’t go so well, and the building gets set on fire. While searching for people to rescue, Lorenzo discovers Virginia de Villa-Franca down in the basement cowering in her shift alongside a bunch of other girls. They’re hiding out there, and Lorenzo realizes he’s near where his sister is entombed. He finds a secret door and sets off exploring. Down below in the dark, he hears moaning. Who could it be? But some poor starved wretch, half-mad and clutching a worm-infested infant’s corpse to her breast. Why it’s Agnes, his sister, she still lives!

I had to put the book down at this point, because I wasn’t quite prepared for it to get all Lucio Fulci on me like that.

The other folks (Virginia, the Marquis, some archers, etc) show up, and Agnes is reunited with the Marquis. She’s saved. Tears of joy and dead babies all around. But what’s that in the darkness.

Running footsteps and a scream!

Who else could be down here in such a gloomy place?

Chapter 11: The monk wins.

So, throughout this whole book, the monk Ambrosio has been self-righteously on a downsclator towards complete moral degradation. And he has no one to blame but himself. Yeah, Matilda, yadda, yadda. No. This is all Ambrosio’s doing. He’s murdered and conspired to have his way. And so here it is at least. Antonia in a shroud. He goes to where she’s interred and waits for her to wake up. When she does, he ignores her pleas and cries and rapes her there amid the corpses.

Afterward, Antonia tries to escape, but only provokes Ambrosio’s anger. Matilda shows up to warn the monk that soldiers are in the catacombs, and Ambrosio blames Matilda for leading him to this. She’s like, “No way. You did all this yourself. In fact, I want nothing more to do with you.” And while they’re arguing Antonia runs away only to have Ambrosio chase her down and stab her to death. He flees back to the crypt as Lorenzo and the Marquis approach where they find the dying Antonia. They’re able to track Ambrosio to the crypt where they find him and Matilda. The two are arrested and dragged to the Inquisition.

But before that, the stories of Lorenzo, Agnes, and the marquis all get wrapped up. Virginia de Villa-Franca cares for Agnes until she’s well again (and of course she falls in love with Lorenzo), and Agnes tells the story of how she wasn’t poisoned but drugged and then interred alive by the prioress. She and the Marquis marry, and after many months and much urging Lorenzo overcomes his sadness at losing Antonia and marries Virginia.

And so the story ends for our lovers, happily for some people ever after.

Chapter 12: But there’s still the Monk and Matilda to be dealt with. The Inquisition treats them as the Inquisition does and they’re tortured and put to the question. The devil shows up and says “I’ll save you if you sell me your soul.” But the Monk’s like no way. Then he gets tortured some more, and Matilda’s like, Hey, Satan, where do I sign? And so she goes off to become¬† the 18th century Protestant’s idea of what a porn star is like. Ambrosio gets tortured some more, until finally, he tells Satan, “Okay, I’ll sign.”

Satan helps him escape and together they fly off to a bleak and remote desert. And the devil’s like, “Oh yeah, by the way, Elvira was your mom and Antonia your sister.” He then drops Ambrosio from a great height and takes off. And Ambrosio is six days dying while insects drank his blood and eagles tore his flesh and pecked out his eyes.

And so the book ends with the villain screaming blasphemies at the sky before his corpse is washed away by a rain storm.

What a trip.

Community Aches

You can probably spare yourself a lot of trouble when you join a community by determining as soon as possible what kind of community you’ve joined. I can think of three types of communities and each has their value, but each also breaks in a way peculiar to itself.*

Community of Interests: “You like dinosaurs. I like dinosaurs. Let’s form a dinosaur club!”

This is probably the most common type of community, and you’d probably think it wouldn’t suffer from any problems, but there’s always going to be that asshole judging your love of dinosaurs and whether it’s “correct” or not, so when the gatekeepers exceed the members and every week brings a new test of devotion, you can be certain this community is sliding into dysfunction.

Community of Purposes: “You like dinosaurs! I like dinosaurs… and have access to cloning technology and an intact velociraptor genome! Let’s make dinosaurs!”

Beyond the shared interest, this community has an agenda it hopes to implement. It wants to do a thing, and everyone’s on-board to do it. Solidarity and intention become more important than interest. Often this type of community and the one above will exist within one community with members pushing it one way or the other. Of course when this one breaks, the assholes come out to test your devotion to the cause and see if you’re really about cloning woolly mammoths or are just so much talk.

Community of Circumstances: This is the community for people circumstance has thrown together. English teachers in South Korea, Pakistani Law Students at the University of Wisconsin, etc. Normally these people would have nothing to do with each other, but circumstance has thrown them together and so they’re now part of community. On the plus side, they meet people outside their comfort zone and become friends with them. On the downside once the circumstances change, people move on without looking back.

* Barring active trolls who delight in destroying/undermining communities.