Monday, November 14, 2016

Gaming Trisolaris

2016 MN State Fair Arts & Crafts Exposition

A couple weeks ago, I finished reading Cixin Liu's Remembrance of Earth's Past, better known as the Three-Body Problem or Trisolarian Trilogy. The trilogy has a huge fandom in China, at least one authorized sequel, and perhaps the most expansive future history since Olaf Stapledon's Star Maker. It's the best SF I've ever read, and so of course that makes me wonder aloud about how to make it gameable.

The system - that's pretty straightforward. I'd use Fate, and specifically the Diaspora rules, since they are already fine-tuned for hard SF such as Cixin Liu's trilogy. The Technology-Resources-Environment rating scales can be put to good use in the Trisolarian trilogy's universe.

Environment gets swingy in a system like Trisolaris, where prior to human contact, the system ratings alternate between E0 (garden world) and E-3 (barren world).

We also need some modifications to the T2-4 end of the Technology ratings.

Over the course of the novels, we see Trisolaris transitioning between T levels with respect to interstellar propulsion, from something like a T1 (exploiting the system, and generation ship capability) to T2 (light curvature propulsion by the third novel).

That being said, it is apparent from quite early on that some T4 technologies exist for the Trisolarians, such as sophons and the capability to block others' T-advancement through a sophon block.

Clusters are worth mapping purely as relationships rather than itineraries. Specifically, they become a way to map potential relations of power, including colonial relationships between different species in the dark forest. I suppose there need to be dark forest detection mechanics too.

Finally, what do the PCs do, and what are campaigns like? There are a lot of options here:
  • The PCs are Wallfacers, or in the retinue of a Wallfacer
  • The PCs are members of the ETO, another faction, a group of scientists, or even a spacecraft crew
  • The PCs are Trisolarians, members of a leadership faction or even a dissident group with greater empathy for the humans
  • A Trisolarian campaign should be episodic, with the plot being advanced thanks to time-hopping technologies such as hibernation (for humans), dessication facilities (for Trisolarians), or near lightspeed propulsion / time dilation as plot devices to advance the story.
  • As time advances through progressive eras, the GM should engage the entire group of players in mapping key features of the setting in each era.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Alethiometer Deck


In the Dealers' Room at Gaylaxicon this past weekend, I found a promo deck from The Golden Compass movie. The seller had no idea what the cards were like, but at $10 the deck seemed like a pretty low-risk purchase.

Imagine my surprise when upon opening the deck I saw a unique image on every playing card. And not only an image, but a definition of the image. For example, the 7 of Spades is Serpent, an has the legend: "Definition: Evil, Guile, Natural Wisdom". Very nice! The card includes both a traditional meaning and a more Gnostic interpretation of the Serpent.

I believe each card in the deck is meant to represent one symbol from the alethiometer, the most important clockwork device from the first novel in His Dark Materials. The deck could be used as the Action Deck in any Victorian or steampunk Savage Worlds game, or used as a special divinatory Aspect generator in a steampunk-flavored Fate game.

Compared to the disappointment that was the Penny Dreadful Tarot Deck, The Golden Compass playing card deck is a major find and a bargain.

Steam Between Panels



First the good news: Melissa Scott has a new series of pulp era adventures mixing aviation, archaeology, and the supernatural. The books are coauthored with Jo Graham, and the first book in the series, Lost Things, is pictured above. A few books in there's an adventure set during Mussolini's invasion of Ethiopia. Good stuff.

I learned about this new series during Eleanor Arnason's excellent interview with Melissa at Gaylaxicon last weekend. What I am writing about today is the fact that their discussion also helped me understand something that happened during my panel on Steampunk and Alt History earlier in the convention.

The steampunk panel featured Amy Griswold, co-author with Melissa Scott of a new steampunky alt history Victorian detective series that starts with Death by Silver, and Ginn Hale, known for her groundbreaking gay-and-sexy steampunk novel Wicked Gentlemen. Our panel was focused on steampunk and alt history as a vehicle for exploring stories centered on the experiences of LGBTQ people and other minorities.

We had a good discussion, sharing a number of anthologies, novels, and RPGs that touch on these forms of representation. I also shared some typologies of steampunk RPGs and the differences in how they deal with the conflicting themes of Empire and cultural diversity. My copanelists shared some really fascinating details on aspects of Victorian life based on their research. Their discussion of the complete lack of consumer protection, and the fact that many consumer products (including food and clothing) were adulterated with poisons and toxic chemicals was particularly intriguing. Urban Victorians lived in a toxic swamp!

There was one moment of awkwardness towards the end of the panel, when an audience member asked if we had read Sterling and Gibson's The Difference Engine.  None of the panelists had read it. I've certainly tried once or twice. I used to feel guilty about this until I figured out that Eleanor Arnason actually introduced a Babbage Engine in an SF&F novel earlier than Sterling and Gibson. See Eleanor Arnason's Daughter of the Bear King (1987).

Eleanor's interview with Melissa Scott brought home a reason why my two co-panelists and I never got around to reading The Difference Engine (1990). They were talking about cyberpunk (Melissa Scott's Trouble and Her Friends was an important work in that genre), and Eleanor mentioned that she was never entirely comfortable with cyberpunk because it had too much Bruce Sterling.

Melissa Scott went on to amplify this point. She talked about writing Trouble and Her Friends as an embodied female response to the kind of masculinist mind-body dualism that we tend to see in cyberpunk, where the male mind prevails over all sorts of adversity, virtual and material. Both Eleanor and Scott highlighted that these same works of fiction (which they felt Sterling's work exemplified) showed white males making the most of the future while women and people of color remained stuck in the underclass.

Now you might agree or strongly disagree with their critique. But it rings a bit true for me when I reflected on the audience surprise in the steampunk panel that none of the panelists had read The Difference Engine.  I know one of the turnoffs for me early in the novel is the female character who is essentially a hostage of the male rogue protagonist. There is a similar turnoff early in A Game of Thrones which has made it difficult for me to make headway with that novel.

So rather than view myself as a "fake fan" or a "fan imposter" for not having read a seminal work, I am now going to consider the fact that a gay guy, and two female authors - each well-versed on steampunk and Victoriana - didn't find that particular "seminal" steampunk work very engaging. There are all sorts of reasons why a particular canon (or Appendix N) is insufficient.

I might still read The Difference Engine, but as I mentioned above, I have already read a good novel with a Babbage Engine. An earlier novel than Gibson & Sterling's.

Credit where credit is due.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Gaylaxicon 2016 Was Great!

Yes, that's General Chang's Bird-of-Prey
that can fire while cloaked!

Gaylaxicon 2016, the national convention for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender fans and their friends happened this weekend in Minneapolis. It was a pleasure to work on the Program Committee and the Concom this summer! The entire Concom were volunteers, and convention chair Don Kaiser and all the committee members worked hard to create a great experience. All that work paid off: Registrations exceeded our target of 250 members, and we sold out the hotel block as well. In spite of many social gains in recent years that have advanced rights for the LGBTQ community, the demand is still there for a national LGBTQ SF&F convention!

My unofficial "eyeball" of participants left me with the impression that the largest group of participants were males. But many women attended the con (and for sure, I hope their numbers grow and grow), and I wouldn't be surprised to hear that the majority of attending authors were women.

There were a couple panels on trans topics, and a several on furry or furry-adjacent themes. There weren't any panel topics that touched on bisexuality, so I the next time around we should do more outreach to both the trans and bi communities.

I could have sworn I took more photos at Gaylaxicon than I did, but this view of the contents of my bag on Saturday AM will give you a sense of the range of topics and panels at this convention :
  •  I moderated two extremely well-attended panels: 
    • "Star Trek at 50": I had two great local fan co-panelists for the first panel, which discuss LGBTQ themes (and characters as we imagine them) across all the Star Trek series and movies. Many participants are excited about the forthcoming new Star Trek series, which will be set in the early Federation. We've been told that the new series will have an out LGBTQ character.
    • "Steampunk and Alternate History, as ways to explore LGBTQ and diversity/inclusiveness."  Authors Ginn Hale (I'm reading her delightful first novel Wicked Gentlemen right now!) and Amy Griswold (currently a writing partner with Melissa Scott on some great books!) were terrific co-panelists, with a solid understanding of Victoriana, steampunk, and related themes. I brought a lot of RPGs as props for this panel, and also shared some relatively new resources on African and Asian steampunk stories and resources, including Filipino steampunk's father, Dean Francis Alfar (read the seminal "Kite of the Stars"), The Sea is Ours Southeast Asian steampunk anthology by Jamie Goh and Joyce Chng; Nisi Shawl's re-envisioning of the Belgian Congo in Everfair, and Bryan Thao Worra's exercises in Laomagination at his On the Other Side of the Eye blog.
  • I attended (at least) three great panels on topics related to Oz. The colorful booklet in my bag is the convention program, with a cover illustration by Eric Shanower. Our convention guests included author/illustrator Eric Shanower and his partner David Maxine, who is an expert on Oz theater and musicals.
  • Don Kaiser did an excellent interview with Gaylaxicon Guest of Honor, and one of my favorite SF&F authors, Eleanor Arnason. If I ever get famous for some reason, I hope I get an interviewer who is as well prepared as Don was!
  • Eleanor Arnason and Ginn Hale did a panel on using the humans to model aliens (which actually turned into a great discussion on animal models for aliens). If you like insects and mollusks this one was not to be missed.
  • I participated in an interactive interview/discussion with Paizo's lead developer, F. Wesley Schneider. Burl Zorn of Source Comics and Games fame led the interview, and there was a lot of opportunity for audience members to engage Wesley in conversation. He made me think differently about the function of iconic characters in RPGs, and if there's interest, I may say more about that.
  • Lyda Morehouse led a hilarious and serious circle discussion on yaoi/yuri manga. Have you seen Lyda's Mangakast blog? If you like anime and manga you should check it out.
I'm sure that there are a lot of other important things to say about the convention, but for now what I can say is that Don Kaiser's moving remarks at the close of the convention rang very true for me. I was having similar thoughts all weekend, in fact. In a nutshell, Gaylaxicon affirmed for me that there continues to be a very important place for LGBTQ genre fans and their friends to be able to create their own spaces to discuss, enjoy, and celebrate the genres that they love. Sure, we've had great advances in civil rights in the last few years, but we still need autonomous spaces where we can develop our own critiques, share resources and recommendations, and enjoy each others' company as fans. 

Oh, and Gaylaxicon had one of the most active gaming spaces that I've ever seen at an SF&F convention! 

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Young Centurions Take On Mars!


We'll be running "Young Centurions Take On Mars!", a Young Centurions scenario at Con of the North 2017. The event will be part of the programming for the Saturday Night Space Opera dedicated theme space. I have requested the game for Friday afternoon, February 17, from 12-4 PM. 

Here's the teaser:

On the eve of WW I, Martian artifacts are uncovered hinting at a new Tripod Invasion. The teen heroes of the Century Club must find a way to defeat the Martian foes before they once again wrap their slimy tentacles around the Earth. Try out this easy, fun-to-play pulp RPG prequel to Evil Hat’s Spirit of the Century.



Thursday, August 4, 2016

Diversicon Lobby Talk



I attended Diversicon this past weekend, and as usual, it was a fantastic, intimate convention that takes SF&F seriously. As the years go by and I know more people, I am more inclined to hang out a tiny bit and chat in the lobby. On Saturday afternoon, I overheard two people at the con talking about generation ships. That got my attention, as generation ships are one of my keener interests in SF.

Penny has been reading Kim Stanley Robinson's Aurora. The novel is about a generation ship that is already a few generations into its interstellar flight. I gather from the conversation, and from what I heard reviewers say earlier in the year (or was it last year in the annual "What do I read next?" panel at Diversicon?), that Bad Things Happen as the flight proceeds. Descendants of the original crew feel "trapped" by their ancestors' decision to take this flight. Things Fall Apart - socially as well as physically. At least that's what I gathered from the table talk.

Penny expressed some skepticism about the prospects and wisdom of long-term space flight. She felt the risks to human life were too great, the containers too flimsy and fallible. Ellen, an engineer by training, felt that the safety concerns could be addressed through good engineering. I can't say the conversation went much farther beyond this, but the conversation got me to buy the book and think it through myself. The discussion could have been one or more panels in their own right, and if I finish KSR's Aurora, I may propose one for next year.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Far Trek Now


Today is your next, brief opportunity to order an extremely affordable print copy of C.R. Brandon's original series fan RPG, Far Trek. For the same presumably very limited time, you can also order the first double scenario book for Far Trek, The Danger of Peace. Each brief release of the core game has featured a variant cover, so these releases are both affordable and collectible. Best to order today if you are interested.  

If you miss it, you'll feel lonely and sad.


Saturday, June 25, 2016

Young Centurions


I had to pull out of the recent Fate More Kickstarter, due to the first in a series of massive car repairs this Winter/Spring. This week, a slew of new Evil Hat releases hit The Source, and I grabbed them all! No more fear of missing out!

The new game Young Champions is particularly welcome. The game is set in the Spirit of the Century RPG universe.  And SOTC was my first brush with Fate. In fact, it was love at first sight!

I may have run the first open game of SOTC in Minnesota. That demo game years ago at The Source drew my friend Chad, who created a Jungle Lord (transplanted to NYC), as well one of the only Hollow Earth Expedition RPG fans in town, who played a Doc Savage type, complete with labs and domicile in the Empire State Building!

The action featured a fight on a Zeppelin in the skies over NYC. Like so many subsequent Zeppelin fights in my SOTC and HEX games, it did not end well for the Zeppelin! I think in this case, a wrench being used as a weapon hit a metal ladder frame within the airship's canvas shell. Sparks were drawn, and leaky gas cells ignited. Things like this happen, ALL-THE-TIME, in Spirit of the Century.

From there, I never went back! I've run many convention scenarios set in the SOTC universe, ranging all over the Earth and onto Mars. We've had Moorcockian Eternal Champions and villains in our games too, including the Ulric and Ulrika twins (my own creations), Count Zenith, and Jumping Jack Flash. But by Fate Core standards, SOTC has a bit heavier frame than I really need for a good pulp action Fate game, so it is good to see Young Centurions deliver the pulp using the lighter chassis that Fate Accelerated Edition provides.

And this isn't simply a retread of the 1930s SOTC setting, but instead features the young heroes of 1910 earlier in their career. I haven't read through the rules yet (just got 'em) but the cover and interior art are just outstanding, so I want to call that out today. Look at the diversity of heroes - and vehicles - on the cover. (Tractors don't get nearly enough love.)

And look at the heroes on the back cover:


Finally, I'll point to my new favorite character right here:


Given that my initials are JET, I'd say this is a perfect character.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Saturday Night Space Opera & Free RPG Day


On Saturday, June 18, I'll be running two SNSO game events at the Source Comics and Games. Both events are part of Free RPG Day:

  • From 6-8 PM, I'll be running an old school SF game using the SLUGS monster booklet published by Lamentations of the Flame Princess. We'll probably use the Lamentations of the Flame Princess RPG, but maybe also White Star for this game session.
  • From 8-9 PM (or a bit longer, if the Source stays open later), I'll run a demo of FAITH: the Sci-Fi RPG. FAITH is a very new card-based RPG. I'm looking forward to trying it out!


Saturday, May 7, 2016

Curtain Call For Space Brothels

Subterranean edition of Leviathan Wakes

I manage programming in the anti-sex trafficking field, so it's perhaps not surprising that themes related to space brothels and sex workers in space really hold little interest for me. The TV show The Expanse carried forward some of the not-so-credible genre cliches associated with prostitution (e.g., working girls with nice cop boyfriends) - cliches which I'd like to think have a limited, ah, future.

But even within the limited optic of the show, we can see that the conditions of production/reproduction of space prostitution are about the same as space mining in the Belt: cramped living quarters, no differentiation between workplace and personal space, little insulation against coercion and violence. Very much like the experience of the majority of trafficked women and youth in real life.

Have I featured space brothels in my own games? Not too often, although players in my Fate Strange Stars games have visited a fetish bar on one of the Deodands' sordid orbitals, and one female player chose to create a rebel sex worker. For me it really depends a great deal on where the players want to go; I'm certainly not going to push them there. I've been in too many games that were theater for the GM's particular, or rather "particular", interests. I've probably done that myself at times, but maturity is understanding that you are GMing and creating a world for others - even when the primary and immediate motivation is creation for oneself.

What gets played out at the table depends on the comfort level of individual players. I frequently game with women and LGBTQ folks, and being LGBTQ myself, don't make assumptions that what one or two players find amusing will be universally experienced as fun or enjoyable. It's often best to know when to draw a curtain around a scene. In fact, we use a curtain-closing gesture at the gaming table as a sign that it's time to move on.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Thirty Days of Space 1889: The World(s)


This weekend I read the first chapter of the Ubiquity Space 1889 RPG, "The World of Space 1889." The first chapter provides a brief overview of the Space 1889 setting, with an emphasis on technology.

A few key items are:
  • No telephones
  • No radio
  • Telegraphs (and of course mail) are how you communicate across vast distances on Earth
  • Heliographs are the only way to communicate across vast distances in space, and even then, planets like Earth and Mars may be on opposite sides of the sun (and therefore out of communication) for up to six months at a time
  • Mars has more gravity than it should (90% of Earth's)
  • There is an odd speculation that terrestrial planets' distance from the sun may tell us something about their relative age, with the outer worlds having existed for progressively greater spans of time. This latter point deserves some amplification.
The asteroid belt is Space 1889 is purportedly due to the break up of a planet called Phaeton. Now suppose for a moment that Phaeton was the first terrestrial planet, and therefore the first to reach advanced senescence and break apart.

Mars is the next oldest. Its formerly advanced civilizations are now in decline, with mere city-states left where once great empires stood. Mars' climate gradually is drying out. In time, the planet will become completely uninhabitable and it will break apart like Phaeton did.

Earth is still blue with abundant life. It represents an earlier stage of planetary evolution than Mars. Human civilization is more advanced at this point in time, meaning that our technology level is higher than on Mars, and our civilizations are expansionist and imperialistic rather than in decline.

Venus represents a stage some 150 million years younger than Earth. It is a humid, wet planet with ubiquitous shallow seas. Dinosaurs are everywhere. The only intelligent life are spear-using lizardmen. 

Mercury is even worse. It is a tidally-locked hell world. One face of the planet is scorched by the sun. The other face is frozen. Between them runs a narrow band of riverine canyons in perpetual twilight. This is the abode of extremely primitive life forms; the kind that have just emerged from the sea for the first time.

Now Darwin's The Origin of the Species By Means of Natural Selection had already been published in 1859. One wonders how the apparent discovery that planetary age increases with distance from the sun resonates or conflicts with evolutionary theory? Evolutionary theory tends to be presented in stages that correspond with geological eras. But is it one thing to depict those stages based on one planet's fossil record and geology, and yet another to assert that the stages will follow the same pattern on other worlds, and in a manner in which relative distance from the sun predicts one's current stage?  There's a lot to think about here, as this moves evolution into a much closer and less contingent orbit around physics. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Thirty Days Of Space 1889


For the April 2  Saturday Night Space Opera game, I'll be running the Ubiquity system version of the Space 1889 RPG.  I actually ran a Ubiquity-based Space 1889 game once before at a convention. I had to use the Ubiquity-based Leagues of Adventure RPG for that event, due to issues with the Kickstarter for the new game. Players had a lot of fun with that convention game, and I am sure that running Space 1889 with the official Space 1889 Ubiquity rules is going to go just fine.

Over the next 30 days or so, I am planning to write a series of posts on the RPG and game world as I prepare the scenario. This will be partly reflections based on reading the book, and partly exploration of themes related to the setting.

This version of the Space 1889 setting was written by Europeans, and there are subtle changes which are intriguing to me, such as the existance of a revolutionary government in France due to the victorious Paris Commune. That detail alone is pretty cool, and creates all sorts of possibilities for "Agents of the Commune" style international, interplanetary, and even anti-colonial intrigue.

Hopefully I'll get some reading done on the Commune this month. I have two classic histories of the Commune sitting on shelves less than five feet away from me, just waiting to be read.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Saturday Night Space Opera: FASA Trek!


Our next Saturday Night Space Opera event is on Saturday, March 5 at 6 PM, at the Source Comics & Games in Roseville. Erik Mornes will again be the GM. His game a few months ago was great; it was also my first opportunity ever to play FASA Trek, even though I've been collecting the game since the 80s.

We'll look forward to seeing some of you Saturday night for the next adventure on board the Excalibur!

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Godgraft

Godgraft (Curses, Cost, Per Scenario, Corrupting): The caster rolls INT/Clever +2 to graft one or more divine organs, tissue, or body parts onto a willing subject. The subject must lose some of their own substance and essence to create space(s) for the graft(s) to fit, so amputations, flensing, and organ removal usually occurs prior to to casting. The recipient crosses off an existing Aspect and creates a new one representing the graft.

The recipient typically agrees to the casting because of the prospect of acquiring divine powers or abilities. The recipient rolls 1DF. On a positive roll, the GM determines what beneficial power has been acquired; on negative roll, some deleterious change occurs in the recipient as a result of the graft; on a zero (0) result, the limb, organ, or tissue is simply a functional replacement for the organ that was removed.

For the caster, this is a Major or Severe Infraction, depending on the deity and organs involved.

This spell is inspired by Michael Moorcock's Corum series.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Tomorrow's Fate Strange Stars Game



You start in a backwater star cluster connected to the iceworld Boreas. The star system’s name comes from its primary planet, Zolymayas. The system has that one inhabited planet; it’s a very hostile world with a crappy, third-rate starport. The planet is almost self-sustaining. Most technology here is late 19th Century, although as usual a few hoarders and exclusive enclaves have something better. Some places have electricity, and many have intact lead piping, but there’s no free Metascape access here.

You’re in a band. You came here for a gig at a spaceport dive called The Furry Octopus. All of 5 spacers showed up for that show. Nobody seemed very impressed. The space hauler who promised you a ride back to Boreas and out of this cluster took off early. So you’ve been stuck here a while. Turns out there’s less demand for cutting edge psychedelia than you were promised. Times are tough. You could really use a gig.

You’ll create characters using the Strange Stars Fate rules. Possible player character roles in the band include:
  • Promoter
  • Lead Singer
  • Musician(s) – feel free to invent an instrument
  • Groupie
  • Drug Supplier
  • Security/Roadies
  • Your own crazy ideas
You’ll also need a name for this band. You’ll have to duke that out at the table.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Strange Stars A-To-Z: "Z" Is For Zolymayas

Cluster Graphic by Lester J. Portly

Our final Strange Stars A-to-Z post is an open letter to you, dear reader. Strange Stars was built to be canon light. The Strange Stars Game Setting Book provides just enough detail for you to make the setting your own. The philosophy is that GMs are going to modify and fill out the setting anyway; our job is to create just enough to facilitate each GM's local ideation, creation, and iteration of the Strange Stars.

If you are a fan of the Diaspora RPG, you probably recognize the diagram at the top of the post as a part of a cluster of several star systems. While the Fate edition of Strange Stars is built for Fate Core, I used the Diaspora SRD to build out world generation and cluster design rules for the Strange Stars Fate Edition Rulebook. Each sphere represents a star system and its parameters for technology, Environment, and Resources. The Technology-Environment-Resources scales run from -4 to +4 as they do in Diaspora, but the details of scale are different in the Strange Stars. A tad bleaker, you might say!  The lines and curves linking the systems represent hyperspace nodes.  

Only one of the worlds up above is "official": the anchor world in the cluster is the ice-planet of Boreas, which is described in the Strange Stars Game Setting Book. Each of the other worlds in the cluster was created by me using the system and cluster generation rules in the Strange Stars Fate Edition Rulebook.

As for myself, I'll be using this particular patch of stars this coming Friday! The action will start in the Zolymayas system, which has one very hostile, industrializing world; a world that is almost self-sustaining. The kind of place that desperate people do desperate things to escape.

I hope you'll create your own worlds for Strange Stars! Make the Strange Stars yours!

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Jerry Cornelius Calling


I've been a Michael Moorcock fan since high school. Last year, I re-read the Hawkmoon cycle, as well as reading the Kane of Old Mars trilogy and the three books in the Eternal Champion series for the first time. I also started The Whispering Swarm, Moorcock's most recent autobiographical novel.

More on that in a minute.

Mind you, almost everything of Moorcock that I have read previously was part of the Eternal Champion continuity. I never read the Jerry Cornelius novels. Of course, I've had a copy of the fat orange paperback Jerry Cornelius omnibus for maybe 30 years, but I've never made any headway with it. With the first release in the Titan Books reprint of the Jerry Cornelius tetrology out this week, I decided to pick up a copy of The Final Programme and give it a go. I finished it three days after starting the book.

While the Eternal Champion novels have always been popular with fans, the Jerry Cornelius series has had a cult following of its own. While it is a bit challenging to describe Jerry Cornelius, rock and roll playboy assassin might work. The trappings of the 1960s, including drugs (particularly hallucinogens), rock and roll, and sexual experimentation, are all over this novel. Add science fiction staples from the pulps such as needle guns, the Hollow Earth, and fringe science. Then add Eastern mysticism.

Much of this might invite comparisons with Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land (1961). Heinlein's work is far more coherent, but Moorcock puts a great deal more on the table in terms of engagement with real-world sexuality.

For example, there's a lot of homosexuality in the novel, but not a trace of homophobia. That's very unusual for 1960s SF. The scenes in The Final Programme in which Cornelius hangs out in a London gay bar/pinball hall are very evocative; these must have been based on places where Moorcock was hanging out with friends.

As far as internal coherence goes, the sentence structure here is crisp. We're reading fine, brief Moorcockian sentences. Frequently, the banter between the characters provoked surprised laughter. There were also two amusing forays into Rabelasian lists; one was a list of types of party-goers; the other subject was academic/scientific specialties beginning with the letter "A".

But the novel's structure and plot: not so coherent. Figuring out what is really happening as this novel progresses from "Phase" to "Phase" (as the multi-chapter sections are called) is a puzzler. Part of this may be what Moorcock revealed about himself in The Whispering Swarm: he has periodic visions and hallucinations. He was also part of the drugs and rock and roll scene in the 1960s, so it's perhaps not surprising that the novel is an odd plot.

That being said, it's not difficult to see the lipstick traces between this work and several others, including William S. Burroughs' Naked Lunch (1959), Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson's Illuminatus Trilogy (1975+), and maybe also Grant Morrison's Invisibles (1994+).  The Jerry Cornelius character also inspired other peoples' creations such as Brian Talbot's Luther Arkwright (1978) and Grant Morrison's Gideon Stargrave (1978). The former was explicitly encouraged by Moorcock and even has its own RPG now; the latter led to accusations of plagarism.

One warning if you read the re-issue: John Clute delivers huge spoilers in his introductory essay. You might not want to read that until you finish the tetrology. It really kind of ruined the reading experience for me, and spoilers usually don't bother me.

I intend to soldier on through the rest of tetrology as Titan releases the rest of the reissues. In the meantime, it's time to start reading Titan's reissues of the Corum saga!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Strange Stars A-To-Z: A Yantran Holiday

http://memory-alpha.wikia.com/wiki/Vaal

A Yantran Holiday: it has become a euphemism in the Vokun Empire for unforseen, improbable disaster. All too many Vokun lords have brought their entourages to Yantra for a holiday to dally with its beautiful and accomodating natives. More than a few of these pleasure trips have meet with sudden, inexplicable calamity.

Invariably, these disasters take the form of catastrophic technology failures. Anti-gravity or drive systems fail; Vokun rocket chairs suddenly plunge to earth; Metascape-based guidance systems become improbably unrealiable; life support systems spit out toxic goo.

More than one Ibglibdishpan mentat has calculated the odds. They have concluded that primitive and pleasantly lush Yantra is improbably dangerous - and especially so for parties accompanied by a Vokun lord.

So an experiment has begun.

The Vokun Empire has temporarily opened Yantra for holidays by sophonts from outside the Empire. A temporary Smaragdine art colony here. A space hauler shore leave there. A Hyehoon or Djagga-led eco-safari in the equatorial regions. Dilettantes from the Circus ringworld tour the natives' quaint stone shrines.

The Ibglibdishpan are watching and running the numbers.  




Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Strange Stars A-to-Z: "X" is for Xe-Xem-Xir

http://www.nydela.sakura.ne.jp/delany/babel.htm

Gender neutral pronouns such as xe, xem, and xir are used by some cultures in the Strange Stars setting. They're introduced on the Terminology page (p. 29) of Trey Causey's Strange Stars Game Setting Book. You'll find ones spelled similarly if you scroll down this post from the Gender Neutral Pronoun Blog.

I've never GMed a game in a setting where gender neutral pronouns (other than "they") were in regular use at the table, although in one Diaspora campaign a player introduced and used them from time to time.

Maybe I should use them in a game (1)... and maybe also reward proper usage (2). But I would never do this as a casual change in a game or campaign, or with stranger-players about whom I know nothing, or as a joke (3).

Here's my best guess at the proper usage for gender neutral pronouns in the Strange Stars setting, with setting-appropriate context:
  • Nominative/subject: "Xe was the first Hyehoon I saw with wings." 
  • Objective/object: "I beat xem within an inch of xir life" said the Hwuru thug.
  • Possessive determiner: "Xir spiracles sursurrate like shivers" said one Boma to another about a third.  
  • Possessive pronoun: "The pretty torture-slave is xirs" the Vokun said, pointing xir lips at the Algosian procurer.
Note:

(1) I would never use this with a open game table at a mainstream gaming convention. I've had players sit down to games and before they know anyone at the table make gay jokes or use language that I'd consider demeaning to women, LGBTQ folks, etc. I might use this with a group of players that I know well, ones who think linguistic experimentation is fun, and/or understand the value of gender neutral pronouns in the real world, and/or have an interest in exploring the implications of lingustic change in SFnal social systems. I might use gender neutral pronouns in an open game at Gaylaxicon 2016 or maybe at a WisCon.

(2) Possibly with a reward mechanism for proper usage. Maybe with Fate points, or maybe just as a Boost for proper usage in-character. I am not sure how this would affect the overall economy of the game, since Fate is so language-based. I wouldn't want it to be very gameable, just a reward for immersion.

(3) Pronouns are a life-and-death matter for some people, and may be seen as less important/non-negotiable/or a joke by others whose privilege (or ontological status or social position, if you prefer) allows them to play out their gender as if it were a natural category. Which it isn't. By extended metaphor and as Gang of Four taught us more than three decades ago, "Natural's Not In It" (see the video below). For some cisgender folks, gender-neutral pronouns may may be a way to emphasize or explore the alterity of a situation or setting. For some people who are trans, it may be a way to create safety at the game table. This is really one of those things that needs to be talked through carefully at the table.



The image at the top of the post is possibly the best cover ever for 
Samuel R. Delany's Babel-17.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Strange Stars A-To-Z: Woon Academies

"For Children The Gates Of Paradise" by William Blake

Woon, the homeworld of the caterpillaroid Bomoth. It has a reputation of being a closed world, but nothing could be further from the truth. It's true that few not-of-Woon have visited the vast fungal preserves below the planet's surface. Still fewer have witnessed and reported the legendary "butterfly women" said to covort among those dim caverns.

But the surface of Woon sees many visitors from elsewere among the Strange Stars. A few thousand attend the Woon Academies: various small institutions that share what the Bomoth know with off-worlders - often for a great price. All of these institutions have extrance examinations; the application fees are considerable, and examinations occur only on Woon.

Here are a few of the Woon Academies:
  • Attarus Academy is the most famous of the Bomoth schools. Here flock travelers from all regions of the Strange Stars to learn vocal and instrumental musical arts from Woon's Spiraculous Masters. A vast mountaintop castle with numerous dead-end tunnels, galleries, auditoria, and air shafts, the Attarus itself is an eerie musical instrument that resonates, whispers, and pipes strange songs into the mountain's winding passes and surrounding ravines and valleys. 
  • Dchided Towers spears the miasma clouds above a spore-covered dead sea. Its students are the most daring of Phantasists: experimental oneirochemists who use their own bodies to discover and test new cocktails of dream drugs harvested from the dead sea. It's said that the dead sea's spores are the sediment from vast subterranean fungal farms whose caverns collapsed thousands of years ago.
  • Cromlech is a series of ancient rock-domed complexes. Some are pressurized, others are open to the elements. The Cromlech admits only the very young among the Strange Stars' multitude of clades. That's because this academy teaches humanoid biologics how to listen to the alien languages of non-hominds, and to the spoken tongues of the wild moravecs, robots, and androids. Only juvenile biologics have neural networks sufficiently plastic to listen to and learn these languages.  
  • The Mujib Academy is the most secretive and exclusive of the major Woon Academies. The Mujib also exclusively admits biologics, although it only enrolls adults. Its exact purpose is unclear, but its entrance exam is a series of vocal auditions called "The Ordeal."    


Saturday, January 30, 2016

A Different Light


My fourth book for Vintage Science Fiction Month is Elizabeth A. Lynn's A Different Light. It was published in 1978, so Lynn's novel just squeeks in under the Little Red Reviewer's definition of "vintage" as 1979. I don't like to think of my senior year in high school as the threshold, but there you go.

A lot of important things happened in '79, including the Sandinista and Iranian Revolutions. That year was the beginning of the end of a revolutionary cycle: the great wave that began with the Great Spring Victory in Vietnam, and ended with the unfortunate stalemates of El Salvador and Guatemala.

In one sense it's easy to see Lynn's novel as part of that wave. It was a late '70s mainstream SF novel with perfectly "out" and untroubled LGBTQ individuals. Not to mention "polycules" all over the place!

Queer space!

Those weren't easy times to be "out" as an LGBTQ author or to write SF with "out" characters. After all these years, I still remember the derision that an Ares reviewer brought to the back cover blurb for Lynn's Watchtower: "An Adventure Story for Feminists and Humanists." I went right out and bought that book! No regrets!

So what was the back cover blurb for A Different Light?

"Jimson had twenty years to live. Or one."

Jimson is a young adult on a backwater world. He's a successful artist, rather than a farmboy, but one might think he's a bit of a whiney Luke. Jimson's unhappy because he feels stuck on the planet New Terrain. He has a genetic disease which is treatable there (and really on any civilized world or space station) but which will explode into uncontrollable mutations if he goes into the Hype (i.e., hyperspace).

So that's bad.

I actually had to check myself on the perception that he's whiney. That perception is a form of biological/health-based privilege. Ableism if you like. Jimson has a right to feel stuck and whiney.

And Jimson has another reason to be unhappy too. His first lover, Russell, took off a number of years ago for space.  Russell didn't stay in touch, either. Jimson has a double loss going on.

So of course, Jimson is going to go off into the Hype to look for Russell.

Jimson hangs out in a spaceport and soon meets Leiko, a female spacer who becomes his lover. He makes art and hangs out in a spacer bar. Jimson makes friends with a number of other spacers.

It's worth a short digression to point out that Lynn's spacers have a culture apart from others in society. They have their own social rules, such as no questions. Spacers offer information about themselves to others only after a greater sense of intimacy/affinity/trust has been established. So we have the social anonymity of the big city/port city; the social nexus for the emerence of LGBTQ cultures. Here you can see traces of the lineage that began with Samuel R. Delany's working-class spacer/outsiders - and presumed sexual outlaws (1) - from Babel-17 and Nova. This lineage passes through Lynn's work and eventually leads to the protagonists in Melissa Scott's novels.

Jimson and Russell reunite. They have an adventure together. Jimson, star captain Russell, and his two hired crew go off to plunder religious artifacts from a primitive planetbound tribe (2). They are classic space assholes worthy to be PCs in virtually any Traveller RPG campaign.

Other things happen.

Jimson's cancer mutates with a vengeance. There's no magic cure, but the novel has a very interesting, open ending.

Something important occurred to me after I finished reading the novel. Just a few years after the publication of A Different Light, I had a significant life-changing experience that gave me something in common with Jimson. I met my first lover, and all too soon, he simply went off into space too. The silence became unbearable. I felt alone for a very long time - for years, in fact.

Thank god for my comrades in the Central America solidarity movement of those days; only a few really knew how how to support a gay comrade in the early '80s, but they helped me live in different ways and experience things greater than myself; things worth living for.

They helped me see a different light.

Notes:

(1) See the sexual outlaw aka gay ubermench in John Rechy's City of Night.  Delany more or less lived/endorsed the practice without embracing the ideology.

(2) I'm reasonably confident that Iain M. Banks lifted and twisted this scene Banks-style for Consider Phlebas.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Medieval Midwestern


The third book that I read for Vintage Science Fiction Month was Clifford D. Simak's Enchanted Pilgrimage (1975). This novel is technically SF, since it features UFOs (wheels of flame right out of the Book of Ezekiel) and a baby robot. However, it has the feel and structure of a traditional fantasy quest novel. A scholar from Wyalusing University discovers an ancient manuscript hidden within the binding of another book. His discovery becomes known, which triggers the murderous jealously of a churchman. The hero flees toward the Wasteland to the west. On his journey new companions gather and a fellowship forms between the protagonist, a rafter goblin from the university library, a woodsman and his intelligent raccoon companion, a gnome, a girl (from the Wasteland) and a swamp-rafter.

Now the Wyalusing University reference is a giveaway. That place-name refers to the county of southwestern Wisconsin that was so beloved by Simak. Way Station was also set there, and I am sure some of his other novels feature this landscape as well. The pastoral themes Simak is known for come out in this novel. Most of the action is travelling across a landscape. I believe the Wastelands through which the PCs - I mean, characters, travel include the prairies of Minnesota and South Dakota, and I'm sure that the "Misty Mountains" where the novel ends are in fact the Black Hills.

So what is this world? Is it a post-apocalyptic setting? A late-medieval (1975) Christian alternate history North America with Neanderthals but without Indians? (And where have we seen that kind of thing before - and quite recently?)  All the characters tell us is that there are at least three parallel Earths: the one we know (and there is a motorcycle riding, gun shooting "action scholar" who comes from our world; the one shown in this story with its mix of humans, fey creatures, UFOs and robots; and one with signifiantly more magic, from which one of the character's parents hail.

There is one additional clue that the world of the story ties in to Simak's City.  There is a shabby Odin-like character called the Gossiper, who is accompanied by a shabby, moulting raven and a little dog with spectacles.

It was a fun read, and has inspired me to create a Medieval Midwestern campaign setting using Whitehack. Rest assured though that Native people aren't missing from my game.
 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Gone To The Dogs


My second book for Vintage Science Fiction Month was Clifford D. Simak's City. The novel is what John Clute's Encyclopedia of Science Fiction calls a fixup: a set of linked stories assembled into novel form (1). City was first published in 1952, but some of the stories collected in the novel go back as far as 1944.

The novel tells the future history of humans, dogs, robots, and mutants over thousands of years. Lots of people talk transhumanism. Let's face it: transhumanism is mostly just talky-talk. I mean monkey-talk.

But unlike the work of Cordwainer Smith, where for the most part in spite of transhumanist trappings people mostly don't change, in Simak's City, people really do change.

In fact, humans mostly just go away - most of them in a profoundly transhumanist way. Just read the short story "Desertion". It was very meaningful to rediscover this story of a man and his dog on Jupiter, and the union they achieve. I read this short story in an English class short story anthology, and along with Ray Bradbury's "All Summer in a Day", it has haunted me until now. The former is joyful but bittersweet. The latter is just so sad.

We see the rise of the mutants, and man's uplift of dogs - and the "handy" robot companions that man devises for dogs. We see robots: dutiful, wild, self-directed, lonely. We see several kinds of diaspora, including interstellar and multiplanar.

Has the book aged well? In terms of its vision of the future, I'd say it is a transhumanism unsurpassed; ironically, it's also a transhumanism that is rather embodied, and that keeps its feet on the ground. The novel does not pass the Bechdel Test, although Simak's characterization of women gets better in later novels.

(1) Closer to home here in Minnesota, Eleanor Arnason is also very good at writing collections of linked stories. See her Big Mama Stories and Hidden Folk: Icelandic Fantasies for examples (2).
(2) Huldufolk is worth looking up.


Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Strange Stars Fate - Now In PRINT!


I am happy to report that the Strange Stars Fate System Book is now in print!  I think that's all for today!

Really!

I mean it!


Monday, January 18, 2016

Warriors Of The Red Planet RPG - Now Available!


Both the print and PDF editions of Thomas Denmark and Al Krombach's  Warriors of the Red Planet RPG are now available. The beta version was very polished, and had lavish full color illustrations on the front and back cover. This edition has a more old-school cover, but also has significantly more interior illustrations including for monsters.

If planetary romances in the vein of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Leigh Brackett are your thing, AND you like old school RPGs, you should check this RPG out.  I have run the beta version several times in the last year, and had an opportunity to play in Brett Slocum's Tekumel games using WOTRP this fall!  The game does a good job emulating planetary romances - the best of any print RPG to date - and is very appropriate for Tekumel games set in distant, more high technology eras such as the Latter Times.

All my posts on tWarriors of the Red Planet from the Fate of Tekumel blog are linked here.

I ordered a print copy from Lulu today. I'll get the PDF once it's available through DriveThru.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Reading And Remembering


Today I overheard two of the staff at Moon Palace Books talking about posting David Bowie's list of his top 100 books. I read a G+ post over lunch in which someone said that the best way to honor an artist is to do something creative. I thought what I could do today is start a list of my top 100 books. 

I'm only including ones that I've read cover-to-cover. So no Bible and no Dhalgren. Yet.

In no particular order or precedence, here's a few to get us going:
  1. Miguel Marmol by Roque Dalton. The autobiography of one of the founders of the Communist Party of El Salvador, interviewed by Roque Dalton, El Salvador's greatest poet, himself a martyr and exemplar of the next great revolutionary generation of the 1970s. If you only read one book on the '20's-30's, it should be this one. 
  2. The German Ideology by Karl Marx (particularly for the 11 Theses on Feuerbach; it is possible to skip the rest).
  3. Way Station by Clifford D. Simak.
  4. Horses Make A Landscape More Beautiful by Alice Walker. The first book of poetry I read.
  5. Poemas Clandestinas by Roque Dalton. Wrote poems that incited revolution.
  6. The Black Jacobins by C.L.R. James. Still the most important book about the Haitian Revolution.
  7. The Stars In My Pocket Like Grains of Sand by Samuel R. Delaney.
  8. The Once and Future King by T.H. White.
  9. Ring of Swords by Eleanor Arnason.
  10. The Corum Saga by Michael Moorcock.
  11. The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins. All the world's rubbish about memes started here, but that's not why this book is important.
  12. Philosophical Investigations by Ludwig Wittengenstein.
  13. The Violence of Abstraction by Derek Sayer
  14. Babel-17, Nova, Empire Star, The Ballad of Beta-2, the Fall of the Towers trilogy, and the Jewels of Aptor by Samuel R. Delaney. We'll leave a few lines for other people.
  15. Dune by Frank Herbert.
  16. The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels.
  17. The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius. I have a feeling this list may end up more Plato than Marx, but the real reason this book is on the list is because I discovered a possible reference in Boethius' text to the Gnostic prayer-poem "Thunder, Perfect Mind."
  18. The Scar by China Mieville.
  19. Muhammad by Eliot Weinberger. A very short book of beautiful stories about the life of the Prophet, composed as an act of resistance on the eve of Bush's disastrous invasion of Iraq. I read a selection from it at the M.A.R. Barker memorial. 
  20. Night's Master & Death's Master by Tanith Lee.
  21. The Long War and Power in the Isthmus by James Dunkerley. Two important works on the political economy of Central America.
  22. The Elric saga by Michael Moorcock.
  23. The Anti-Social Family by Michele Barrett and Mary McIntosh, and Women's Oppression Today: Problems in Marxist Feminist Analysis by Michele Barrett. The first of these is the most important, and critiques the central role of family ideology in our politics, and how little it offers families, women, or anyone else.
  24. Saint Foucault: Towards a Gay Hagiography by David Halperin.
  25. History of Sexuality, Vol. 1 by Michel Foucault.
  26. Stone Butch Blues & Trangender Liberation: A Movement Whose Time Has Come by Leslie Feinberg. The former is a working class novel set in Buffalo, NY, and the latter is a chapbook published by World View Forum, the print house of Workers World Party.
  27. Multitude by Michael Hardt and Tony Negri.
  28. City by Clifford D. Simak.
  29. Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien.
  30. The Tomoe Gozen saga by Jessica Amanda Salmonson.
  31. A Different Light by Elizabeth A. Lynn.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

SNSO! Strange Stars!


Last night was my first time running a Saturday Night Space Opera! event for our open group of players! I had eight players show up for my Fate Strange Stars game, which ran from 6 PM-10:15 or so at the Fantasy Flight Games Event Center.

We started with character generation, and that went pretty smoothly. I gave everyone a copy of the Strange Stars setting book, and copies of chapters Ch. 2 and 3 of the Strange Stars Fate Rule Book, which cover character generation and clades (races), respectively.

Jay's PC, and improvised Fate points!

The characters were:
  • Shrike, a space-ninja. Shrike stands for Synthetic Humanoid Reactionary Intelligent Killing Engine. Shrike was a true human in a "robot suit." His goal was never to give up the game that he was not a machine. One of his aspects was a stock phrase: "I am NOT a human being!" 
  • Dorchah, a Blesh (a crystalline insect with the downloaded memories of a human medic) with telekinetic abilities. This was the first time the player, Deanna, had played a tabletop RPG, although she is a World of Warcraft guildmaster! By the time of the climactic battle, she had really grown into her role as a combat medic, telekinetically putting respirator masks on the crew to protect them from nanites, and brewing up combat drugs to juice up the Hyehoon PC!
  • Butkowski, a burly, ornery Smaragdine engineer. We're pretty sure Butkowski couldn't be his real name, but he was so touchy that his crewmates didn't want to push on this issue. In the climactic battle with a Van Vogtian Coeurl in a cargo elevator, Engineer Butkowski pulled a trick on the energy starved beast!
  • Bhat Akana, a Voidglider. His name comes from the Hindi word meaning "Wonder." A bit before the climactic battle, Bhat Akana used his Voidglider senses, which include "hearing" way into the EM range, to determine that Shrike was most definitely not a robot! This was a very clever use of Voidglider base abilities skills.
  • Tcar, one of the feathered but flightless avian uplifts of the Hyehoon clade! Looking at Eric's character sheet after the game, I noticed he dropped in a Star Trek reference, listing Tchar's homeworld as Skorr! Tchar was the ship's pilot, but used his claws to great effect in the battle with the Coerul!
  • Taan, was a unique Moravec created by the most experienced Fate player. Taan is roughly humanoid, with three Waldo-like arms. Taan specialized in Creating Advantages during the combat, distracting the Coerul with the hypnotic gyrations of his three robotic arms, and in the last moments of the battle leaped onto the Coerul's back to distract it further.
  • Arkadina, an extremely chipper and talkative member of the angelic Deva clade. She felt truly called to battle against the Coerul, seeing it as her opposite: a demon from the darkest depths of hyperspace, and a grave existential threat to her god. She landed many blows against the monster, and even managed to slice off one of the tentacles emerging from the beast's back!
  • Aasimar, an androgenous Yantran technoshaman. She was committed to nonviolent diplomacy - even in the midst of battle, and Created Advantage against the Coerul by going into a trance and beginning a compassionate death trance for the beast. Every time Aasimar used her powers, her gender affect switched; the player created the gender pronoun indicator below (a tiny table tent) so that the changes were visible to the other players.

Fate is opimized for a group of 3-5 players and a GM. I've run Fate of Tekumel games with eight players, and that worked OK, but eight is really a big table to manage for a fast and furious Strange Stars game!

Here are a few things to make a big game like this go smoothly:
  • Bring enough Fate point chips for everyone - OR, be ready to improvise with little pieces of paper. I seriously underestimated how many players we would have! Fortunately, Jay Mac Bride had brought along some colored index cards. People made their own Fate points using the cards, and I folded cards in half to create little one-use Boost table tent indicators.
  • When big groups get excited, everyone is talking at once, and less extroverted players, who may have good ideas, can get frustrated. Enforce a more structured flow of play, rotating the action from player to player either clockwise or counter clockwise. I did this at the mid-game break at one player's suggestion. It made a real difference at the table. If memory services, this  procedure was part of the normal sequence of play with Diaspora too.
  • Table tents with character names are critical. 
  • I also create a GM map of players around the table, like the one below.

  • Finally, I use a Leuchturm 1917 journal for all my notes - work, reading groups, and game prep - and in-game jottings. I use Bullet Journal notation wherever possible or to-do lists and record keeping. It really helps to have everything in one place, with a quick method for notes.

The players were very engaged, had high energy, great ideas, and pushed the action forward at a breakneck pace. It was a great game to GM on the coldest night of the winter.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Strange Stars A-To-Z: "V" Is For V&V

Illustration by David Lewis Johnson

"V&V"? That's Volkun & Voidgliders of course. But it could almost be the name of a roleplaying game - or at least a campaign using the Strange Stars setting!

These two races are tied together inextricably in Strange Stars.

The Vokun have an entire empire named after them. Their young are lean, aggressive, impusive, and ambitious. Their elders are corpulent, conspiratorial, and ambitious. But the Vokun are an empire in name only. The reality is one of clan elders vying against each other for commercial dominance and political power.

Think the Great Houses from Dune, but with no Emperor.

Every clan elder is a Harkonnen.

Which leads me to a new campaign idea. I'm currently rereading Dune for the first time since high school. I noticed someting in the text that had never registered before:

"We must not, however, ignore the possibility the Duke has contracted with the Guild to remove him to a place of safety outside the System. Others in like circumstances have become renegade Houses, taking family atomics and shields and fleeing beyond the Imperium."

So the Imperium has an outside? How had I missed that before?

Now, the Strange Stars setting has many outsides. The core setting we know through the Strange Stars Game Setting Book is just the fragments of what was once a much, much larger civilization. Many hyperspace nodes are now quiescent, hiding connections to long-lost systems waiting to be rediscovered. There are many systems out there in which to run, hide, and explore.

This is very useful game-wise. One could imagine a Vokun clan that has lost big in the political game. They might decide that their only option for continued survival is to strike out on their own.

Maybe they had time to assemble a clan flotilla. But maybe the elder only has time to evacuate with a single huge clan ship.  Alternatively, the elder might only have at his disposal a single modest space yacht.

Desperate times.

But no matter how desperate the times and how limited the resources, that evacuation will soon need to transform itself into an exploration and surveying mission. And eventually of course trade and commerical exploitation.

Because that's all the Vokun really know how to do.

So that clan elder will need at least one Voidglider, the sleek, space-skinned clade that serve as the Vokun's space scouts. The Voidgliders are expert at "sniffing out" hyperspace nodes. Perhaps the Vokun elder has a Voidglider who serves his clan already. But perhaps he doesn't, and the elder will need to mount a raid on the Voidglider space-reservation in order to get a scout or better yet at least have a breeding pair of the species.

An entire tribe of Voidgliders might be persuaded to come along with the Vokun evacuation fleet in exchange for a "better deal" in the future: no reservation.

There could be a whole Strange Stars campaign here: V&V.


Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Strange Stars Saturday - January 9



Saturday, January 9th, from 6-10 PM, I'll be running a Fate Strange Stars game at the Fantasy Flight Games Event Center in Roseville, Minnesota. This is our first Saturday Night Space Opera game at our new venue, which features a very comfortable play environment with a full service restaraunt and bar.

MISSION BRIEFING

The Ship wakes you up. There's something the Company wants - and it's OLD and BIG!

This is an adventure set in Trey Causey's Strange Stars game setting, featuring the Fate system rules I wrote for Trey's setting. Character templates for quick builds will be provided! The Fate system is easy and fun and the rules will be taught!

Jump over to the Saturday Night Space Opera blog to RSVP!

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Something For Simak: Way Station (1963)

Illustration by Wood, with more here


January is Vintage Science Fiction Month, with "vintage" being arbitrarily defined as 1979 (or earlier), and my first completed book for the month is Clifford D. Simak's Way Station. I have also read over a hundred pages so far of the new Simak collection.

Simak is good. He's also a local, having grown up in Southwestern Wisconsin, and having been an editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. I am curious to know which Minnesota authors consider him an influence. I am tempted to think Eleanor Arnason would be one; I should probably ask her.

Like fellow Wisconsin author August Derleth, and New York's Arch Merrill, there is a strong element of the regional writer to Clifford Simak. In fact, all of the novel Way Station takes place in what appears to be a farm dwelling in rural Wisconsin. The book conveys a strong feeling of nature on farmland in close proximity to the eastern bluffs along the Mississippi River.

So it is all the more extraordinary that the novel deals so effectively with the themes of world (and galactic) peace from the point of view of a seemingly ordinary, if immortal and lonely, Wisconsinite.

The novel also deals with spirituality and mysticism a bit more than a contemporary SF fan might like, and I gather this is a recurrent theme in Simak's work. I rather enjoyed that element of the novel; it reminds me a bit of the work of Cordwainer Smith.

I'll continue reading Simak this month, because the Second Foundation Reading Group (the oldest continuous SF reading group in the Twin Cities) has chosen the works of Clifford D. Simak as its topic for our gathering on January 31, 2 PM, at Parkway Pizza in Minneapolis.

I'm also following through on something I set out to read for last year's Vintage Science Fiction Month: re-reading Frank Herbert's Dune.  Last year, I bought a new copy of Dune specifically for that purpose. Then I went on to read other things. I'm a few chapters into Dune now, so we'll try to see this one through even though it may take a bit more than a month.

But Simak is the priority for right now.

We're on to City next.