Monday, May 25, 2020

Doctor Who And The Irish Question

Have any episodes of Doctor Who, or the books, comics, CDs, etc. dealt with the Irish Question, directly or indirectly? I can't think of any, but I'd love to hear from people who know of such episodes/media.

As an aside, many fans are quite fond of the UNIT characters from the 1970s, but UNIT itself: it's all to easy to imagine that this kind of paramilitary group was originally set-up as an anti-IRA death squad. Maybe they did that on the side; maybe their scientific advisor steered them onto a different path...

Sunday, July 14, 2019

"Anarchy in Amhor"


Last night, I ran the John Carter of Mars RPG for six players as part of our monthly Saturday Night Space Opera event; last night's games took place at the Source.  In my Barsoom, Red Revolution has broken out in the far northern city of Amhor. A couple of months ago, a mysterious band of blue clad "mercenaries and pirates" had overthrown the despised and feared Jeddak of Amhor, the cruel Jal Had. Following Jal Had's overthrow, the blue clad warriors had reportedly plunged Amhor into chaos. 

In the faraway Twin Cities of Helium, Princess Dejah Thoris had assembled a band of heroes to put the niece of Jal Had, a young female gladiator named Hadra Ja, on the throne of distant Amhor, winning the city as an ally of Helium. The amply-scarred Hadra Ja had made a name for herself as a capable warrior in the Arena of Lesser Helium. Our heroes agreed to help put her on the throne.

Our heroes soon found that they had their hands full. One character, Joseph Stands Alone, a Pueblo Indian, soon realized that Hadra Ja was almost entirely lacking in political instinct; she was a sword, and saw the sword as the solution to everything. He set out to begin her political education on the long flight to Amhor.

Once the PCs arrived at the city, a brave Okar and Joseph discovered the true nature of the blue clad mercenaries and pirates: they were two platoons of U.S. Army Cavalry! While the PCs didn't figure out all the background events, they soon learned that the 9th Cavalry Regiment, one of the all-African American Buffalo Soldiers regiments, had acted shortly after the overthrow of Jal Had to abolish slavery and execute slaveholders and slave merchants. The all-white 7th Cavalry Regiment's platoon, led by one Lt. Rice, used force of arms to try and stop the 9th. The 7th seized the palace, and allied with Red Martian mercenaries and the upper classes in the city, while the 9th went underground, stole a flying warship, and organized militias among the toiling masses and the former slaves.

The player characters ultimately allied themselves with the Buffalo Soldiers, and struck a deal with both the workers' militias inside the city, and a Green Martian horde that had been expelled from the city, to retake Amhor and put the young Hadra Ja on the throne.

The insurgents were successful. Hadra Ja has been installed as the new Jeddak of Amhor. She is supported by workers' militias, and has welcomed the Green Martian horde back into their Greentown enclave within the city. As for Lt. Rice, his whereabouts is unknown, as is the whereabouts of the warship seized by the 9th Cavalry Regiment. 

Amhor is once again at piece, albeit a fragile one perhaps, and Helium has a new ally in the distant north.

(Oh, and in the real world, the 7th didn't have a Lt. Rice, but it did have a Private named Edgar Rice Burroughs.)  

Friday, April 19, 2019

Mystifying Oracle

Mystifying Oracle ARU

I ordered an All Rolled Up (well, maybe TWO, one is still on the way) for my John Carter of Mars RPG dice.  I decided to order the Mystifying Oracle, because I often spent time with a cousin when we were young playing with her Ouija Board. It also fits into the whole psychic medium, theosophy zeitgeist of the John Carter era.

Here's what the ARU looks like loaded with dice, three dry erase pens, and three canisters of tokens:

Here's the flat view of the ARU with John Carter of Mars RPG character sheets:

Finally, here's a close up of the rule book and a character sheet. The PC is from another world, but not Earth. Can you guess from where this character hails?

Sunday, April 14, 2019

The U.S.S. Republic

As part of our monthly Saturday Night Space Opera event last night, I ran my second episodic adventure with the crew of the U.S.S. Republic, whose crew includes young Midshipman James T. Kirk, and his good friend Benjamin Finney. This adventure involved the rescue (?) / recovery (?) of a Discovery-class starship stuck in the negative energy barrier at the edge of the galaxy.

It was a fun adventure with a lot of surprises for the players - and for the GM - and a lot of laughs in the midst of space madness, sheer terror, and conspiracy! And Gorns.

The game was also an opportunity to use a couple of my prize props: the Star Trek: Discovery Eaglemoss models of the U.S.S. Enterprise and the U.S.S. Discovery. Both models are really gorgeous.

Thanks, as always, to Jay Mac Bride for organizing the event, providing the playmat and sheet protectors for the character sheets, and a special thanks also to Matt Towle for the lovely Rainbow Dice he gave me!

Thursday, January 31, 2019

An Unkindness of Ghosts

I'm a bit more than a third of the way through Rivers Solomon's An Unkindness of Ghosts, which isn't a horror story but instead a generation ship novel. I don't normally post a review until I have finished a book, but as someone who is a fan of generation ship stories, this one is doing something new.

New is a matter of some significance in generation ship narratives. The most prevalent themes in the fiction have been a ship that is lost, off course, or otherwise breaking down. Kim Stanley Robinson's Aurora is a terrifyingly grim late exploration of the theme, wedding hard SF considerations and social SF themes smoothly - and depressingly. If Aurora's central argument is that crewed interstellar exploration is a Bad Idea, he sold me on that idea.

What Rivers Solomon does is even more interesting. Her generation ship has a racial hierarchy similar to the Jim Crow South. Resource scarcity is experienced according to the color line, with brutal consequences like heat reductions on the lower decks that lead to malnutrition and gangrene. One of the first scenes in the book involves an amputation.

The ship has physical problems as well, and no one on the lower decks seems to know where it is going. A third of the way into the novel, it seems more likely than not that the ship's engineering/physical problems are really social problems. Time will tell, but I don't see how we avoid that. 

I said at the beginning of the review that A River of Ghosts wasn't a horror story - but it is if you consider racism a horror.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Ball Lightning

I just finished Cixin Liu's Ball Lightning this morning; it was a fairly quick read, since I had just started the novel a week ago. While the book is in some ways a prequel to Remembrance of Earth's Past (i.e., The Three-Body Problem trilogy), featuring the first appearance of both the aliens and the physicist Ding Yi from the trilogy, the book's primary focus is on the scientific investigation of ball lightning, a poorly understood phenomenon.

Scientific research quickly morphs into weapons research. The physics in the novel uses and extends perhaps the most exotic hypothesis regarding the nature of ball lightning, the soliton hypothesis (shades of the physics in Liu's Death's End), and the experimenters have more than one brush with the uncanny as they explore the implications and applications of ball lightning. 

Now, I am wondering how long I'll have to wait to read another of Liu's novels in translation?

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Tabletop Tesseract 2

Yesterday, Saturday Night Space Opera presented Tabletop Tesseract 2 at the Source, the only exclusively SF focused gaming con in the Twin Cities, Minnesota (and maybe the state, and maybe the Midwest)! From 10:15 AM-10 PM, we offered 18 games (16 RPGs and 2 board games) run by 10 different GMs. I haven't seen a head-count of participants, but attendance grew steadily through the day!  Almost all the event organizing was the work of one person, Jay Mac Bride! This was a huge amount of work for one person. Jay did everything with grace and style.

I ran "A Cloaked Ship is No Small Flavor" a post-Dominion War Klingon bird-of-prey heist game (so to speak) using Modiphius' Star Trek Adventures RPG. The crew of the Intrepid-class USS John Brown was tasked with liberating a bird-of-prey from a Tholian Web. This was a covert operation, one provoked by the brief Klingon war against the Federation during the Dominion War. In the postwar environment, the Federation is understandably less interested in begging the Klingons for favors when they need a cloaked ship. The players enjoyed themselves, and did some clever things to advance the mission. They were successful.

I was also able to play in a couple of great games.

Numenéra has become my current obsession, and after a couple of weeks of reading the Numenéra 1st edition book, getting the new slipcase edition of Numenéra Discovery/Destiny (essentially 2e), and securing a copy of the Numenéra deluxe boxed set, I was ready to play the game!  Fortunately, our Saturday Night Space Opera group has about four GMs with Cypher System experience, and I'd say that Cypher is probably the most frequently GMed system at our monthly events.  

Jenifer Doll ably ran a great Numenéra 2e game; I really admire her mastery of the system, the preparation she does to ensure a smooth game, and the small touches like the SFnal fantasy coins she uses for XP.  Jenifer really rolled with the punches as players did unpredictable things, or got distracted - or maybe our PCs got distracted... 

I played Heliára, a Cutured Nano who Possesses a Shard of the Sun. I really liked playing her.  She reminded me a bit of Kyra, the female iconic cleric from Pathfinder.  I've always liked that character.

But all of the pregens were memorable and came to life as played at the table: the bardish Marduk, played by Patrick (who actually sang a bunch while in character!); Tars, the tankish Glave played by Jay; and Spraunk, played by Ben. Spraunk belonged to one of the new Destiny classes that specialized in cannibalizing old cyphers and numenera to build new cyphers.

I also had my first opportunity to play Ben Robbins' Kingdom RPG, which is a neat storygame that focuses on exploring what happens when a specific situation occurs in a "kingdom": anything from a nation-state to a starship, in the case of Patrick Shifano's scenario based on "Tambu", an SF novel by Robert Lynn Asprin. We played the crew of a starship in a space empire that rules through the tributary mode of production. The situation that we faced was a distress call from a ship troubled by the breakout of a bioweapon. I played Shipcat (see the paper miniature at the top of the post. Shipcat was also the captain of the ship, although he spent a lot of time prowling in the ducts and vents.

Patrick had great paper minis for use as primary and secondary characters, and had a very nice set of handouts prepared for the game. He did a great job of preparing a situation to explore in advance of our game. One issue with some storygames like Fiasco and Microscope (Ben's earlier game) is that aspects of the setting and situation to be explored can get pretty random, fanciful, and silly when a group of players has to create the entire set-up at the beginning of the game. Patrick very effectively gave us an initial situation with which to work, and that contributed to a satisfying game.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, we had 16 RPGs, and of those RPGs, there were a total of 10 systems used. Only two of the ten systems (Stay Frosty and Mutant Crawl Classics) have any degree of family resemblance to traditional Dungeons & Dragons, yet all the games were quite accessible to new players. I think this gives the lie to the idea that the d20 system as represented by D&D and Pathfinder has a special place as a universal or uniquely accessible system.