Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Under a Steel Gray Sky - Mutant Future on a lost starship part 1

The lost generation ship is a concept in SF that appeals to me as a GM because of the ability to mix setting types on different decks of the ship and to create what are in effect dungeon crawls in exploring the various areas.

I've been inspired in this by the original Metamorphosis Alpha game, which was one of the first RPG I bought back in the 1970s. The literary inspirations comes from  Brian Aldiss' Non-stop, published in the US originally as Starship. There are not a huge amount of stories set in this specific setting apart from Non-stop and Robert Heinlein's Orphans of the Sky, but I have found Aldiss' stories in the Hellonica series of novels and Hothouse as useful inspirations.

In my choice of title I have used the idea of the characters not being aware of where they are and the ceiling above the deck where the characters above is the seen as the sky. This means that often there will be a low ceiling making flying mutations less useful than in a conventionally Earth setting, this means that I've opted to ban the Complete Wing Development and Psionic Flight mutations.

I'll discuss this some more in another part where I'll set out my base assumptions about the setting and start to develop some of the details of the settings.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Gaming Podcast review: 23 Tatters of the King (YSDC)

The Bradford Players have now got another audio game recording series running with the Tatters of the King, available from or iTunes. This has now reached 13 episodes on open release at time of writing with media partrons of YSDC able to get advanced releases.

The campaign is based around the King in Yellow from Robert Chambers' stories and is published by Chaosium. Even by Call of Cthulhu standards this is quite a dark campaign with a lot of adult content and a strong tone of despair, so is not always comfortable listening.

For those who have listened to the earlier Horror on the Orient Express audio game there is the welcome return of Val's character, Mrs Betty Sunderland, and Fin has another of the Goodenough family. The character generation session is highly entertaining, particularly when Paul of Cthulhu unveils Septimus Vane, with his extensive back story. There is a lot of decent roleplay in the sessions recorded and I've found that listening to other groups gaming has made me think about my own gaming sessions.

The music provided by Aliicorn as a dedicated soundtrack is very evocative and suitable for the game and this is available in full to patrons of YSDC, so there are plenty of reasons to sign up.

The recording is done in surround sound and is put out as a 128kbps mp3 - this does give good sound quality and it is possible to hear 'who is sitting where' on the podcasts. The downloads are pretty quick from YSDC and iTunes.

Strongly recommended for fans of audio games, with the standard proviso that it will have large numbers of spoilers for the adventure used.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Current Reading

My recent reading - some of these will get fuller reviews in the course of time, but I've been busy and not had much time to write my blog.

Rifles by Mark Urban is a history of the 95th Rifles in Wellington's army fighting in the Peninsular War and at Waterloo. It is heavily based on the many accounts that came out of the unit and features descriptions of the soldiers' life in the unit and the rifle's part in various actions including the major battles at Bussaco and Waterloo and more minor ones that only involved the Light Division.

Urban concludes by discussing the growth of wider consciousness of the part that the Rifles and the Light Division played in the Napoleonic Wars for Britain leading to such things as Bernard Cornwell's hugely popular Sharpe series of novels. There is also a discussion of the impact on military thought and tactics from the Rifle's methods of fighting and the success of the British army against Napoleon's forces.

Mud, Blood and Poppycock is a revisionist history of the First World War, aiming to challenge the popular myths of how the war was fought in British culture. Corrigan's approach is quite technical in terms of using statistical analysis to disprove false perceptions like the numbers of casualties being massive and creating a lost generation. He does acknowledge the effect of the 'Pals Battalions' in leading to localised pockets where heavy losses did occur and that have heavily influenced the common perception of the war.

One book that I'm surprised he doesn't mention or list in his bibliography is Paul Fussell's The Great War and Modern Memory, which was one of the first titles that I know of that did address the topic. Fussell is mainly an analysis of the copious literature of the First World war and the way this shaped the popular view.

I've still not finished Corrigan yet so I will probably return to discuss the subject of perceptions of World War One in a later post.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

More miniatures pictures

The Minifigs hobgoblins from this  post, now cleaned up using Dettol.

Old Minifigs 25mm SF figures - Ceyhan Pinheads and Robomen.

I'm now going to strip the old Humbrol enamels off the SF figures and repaint them, I'll post pictures as I go.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Book Review: The Bloody White Baron - James Palmer

Insane, murderous and worshipped as a god, no not your humble reviewer, but the subject of The Bloody White Baron, Baron Ungern-Sternberg, an infamous White Russian commander in the Civil War.

This biography of Baron Ungern-Sternberg is James Palmer's first book. Ungern was born into the Estonian German nobility of the Russian Empire and seems to have had an awkward childhood being made to leave a number of schools before going to a military academy. He became a junior officer in the Imperial Russian Army with a cavalry regiment in Siberia, where he became fascinated by the Mongol and Buryat nomads. Due to disciplinary problems he was moved between regiments and sent away from active service with his violent behaviour remaining a problem through his life.

Ungern was recalled to the military with the outbreak of the First World War, gaining a reputation for reckless courage, but still being indisciplined. Under the Provisional Government he was sent back to Siberia to establish stable military units there before the October Revolution. Joining the White Russians in the Transbaikal region after the revolution he served under Semonov as part of the Siberian forces that undermined Admiral Kolchak's forces by stealing their supplies being sent across the Trans-Siberian railway.

Splitting from Semonov, Ungern lead a small army into Mongolia to drive out the Chinese. He eventually succeeded, setting the Bogd Khan as spiritual leader and becoming dictator. The Bolsheviks establishing control of Siberia started to attack Mongolia. Ungern's troops rebelled against his irrational cruelty as he led them against them, ending in his overthrow and capture by the Red Army.

Ungern's life, like that of many minor historical figures, suffers from being poorly documented which means that in places Palmer does have to speculate, but there is enough information used to avoid this being wild guesses. There is also a depiction of Mongolia and its history in the early Twentieth Century stuck between the Russian Empire and China, both of which had territorial ambitions over it and at times Palmer slips into writing a travel book about his research in Mongolia rather than concentrating on Ungern's life. I did find that this helped to give a sense of the region that the action occurred in. The writing is clear and tends to avoid being either academically dessicated or slipping into purple prose.

Palmer has chosen to try and portray the intellectual milieu of the Russian aristocracy in the period where Buddhism, Theosophy and pan-Asian ideas were popular and undoubtedly influenced Ungern. The discussion of Tibetan and Mongolian Buddhism was interesting in showing aspects of Buddhist beliefs that are different from the usual western views of it as being a peaceful religion.

One irritation with the book is the lack of illustrations and only having two maps in the front it is hard to relate to some of Palmer's commentary on images of the protagonists or the terrain of Mongolia and Siberia. This criticism can also be applied to the descriptions of the Buddhist temples in Mongolia and China and the images of the warlike gods included. Footnotes have been used to show the sources and an index and bibliography are included.

Overall this is an interesting and entertaining biography of a figure that has maintained a shadowy presence in popular culture and I would recommend it.