Welcome to 2023 and a look back at ’22

Time marches on my friends. Holy cow, it’s 2023. I am shocked at how quickly the years fly by since about 2008 or so… while I like to think this is due to having unprotected sex and the output of such things, it’s probably just about getting old and so little in each year MATTERS. In 1989, every week was some major life event it seemed like, but now, eh…

That said let’s look at 2022: the YEARS BEST SHIT.

Board Games

Lots of stuff came out that I have been waiting for, but the big one by Matt Ecklund didn’t get here in time for 2022. I haven’t gotten John Company 2, Bios Mesofauna to the table, so I can’t include them in a best of (yet).

The game of the year for me, despite the fact that the first version of it came out in 2019, is WARCRY. I’ve gotten 10+ games of this over the year and I will call it now as the greatest beer and pretzel miniatures game there is. Most games are 3-4 turns and take about 40 minutes from set up to tear down (or to the next game). I’ve now painted the majority of my terrain and I’m just about to start in on the next box set (Red Harvest) and paint some more Warbands. I’m going to do a big ass review of it and why would people play it vs the also excellent Frostgrave or Necromunda. Warcry has some constraints you have to learn to live with, but once you do, it is just superb and most of all, it makes me laugh when I get my ass kicked most of the time as it’s some crazy ass move or ridiculous roll.

About to make a massive dive.

Looking fine despite the unpainted terrain!

A mosh with NPC creatures and the Corvus Cabal.

The other game we played a lot of was Spartacus, which was originally released in 2012 (a great year for board games!) and has an updated, non-show-related version. I wish I had known this was THAT good back when it was sitting on shelves, we would have played the crap out of it by now. When you see that tons of people have built custom stadiums for the game, you can probably make some assumptions about the quality of the game.

BOOKS

I read a bunch but I can’t keep up with yearly releases of books, my favorites that I read this year (new, I read books I’ve read over again fairly often), all highly recommended are:

River of Earth – James Still. This is about a poor kid who follows his family around to different mining camps and towns. Doesn’t force the reader to dwell on what the character or author is thinking about situations, it just has the situations. It reminded me a lot of John Gardner’s Nickel Mountain, but not a slog which Nickel Mountain was, a pleasure to read.

The Spy Who Came In From the Cold. Brilliant, short spy novel by Le Carre. He has an intro where he spells out that ALL of this is fiction and it’s just slightly influenced by his work in the secret service. People accused him of using real situations which he denies, saying his work as a spy was incredibly boring and stupid in contrast. I wanted to start on the George Smiley novels (Tinker Tailor, etc.) and this is the one to get that rolling.

The Passenger/Stella Maris. Feel like thinking about existence and getting sort of depressed but amazed at the same time? Read these. Ostensibly about some mysterious passenger missing on a plane that “crashed” into the ocean, it’s really about the conditions of existence that would allow that to happen or as McCarthy puts it in another novel: the joinery.

Movies

I didn’t see much in the theaters in 22. 2022 and this year is really just waiting for DUNE 2 since most of the time instead of going to a movie, I would just watch DUNE again The film of the year is the NORTHMAN, but we all knew that. Viking anti-hero revenge film? Oh yeah.

I liked the Terrifier 2, but it was too long and a couple parts took it too far to really love (which is why the fans love the movies, so I get it).

The Video Games

Elden Ring just blew everything out of the water this year, but there were some incredible games and a few disappointments.

What can I say about Elden Ring that hasn’t been said– it’s Dark Souls writ wide, with all the good and bad that comes with open world. I still haven’t finished the game, but I have played hundreds of hours, played dozens of them with friends and the PVP that comes with it. Overall I think the game is too long and probably should have ended at (spoiler) Margott v2. However, there are some fantastic bosses after that– and the Fire Giant is just incredible (and very hard). One of these weeks I’m going to put a fork in the game, but I just keep playing with my low level characters multiplayer and love it. There are so many builds, so many ridiculous weapons and spells, and with the multiplayer it’s a game we will be playing together for years. Is it as good as Dark Souls 1 or Bloodborne? No, but it doesn’t have to be in order to be an absolutely legendary game. Elden Ring has become the game that everything else will be defined against for a long time.

Vampire Survivors

I only have 12 hours or so into the game at this point, but for me it represents exactly what I love about indy video games– a very simple premise taken to the next level. Vampire Survivors is an anti-bullet hell game, in that you run around and shoot things that come at you (rather than dodging stuff that shoots at you). Running around with the whip on a grassy field at first is very boring, but just give it a chance and you will realize that it becomes like modern art at the end of a level with sprites filling the entire screen and you nailbiting that you’ll survive. This is a 2022 gem and everyone should play it. If you love this, check out RIFT WIZARD that came out in 2021– instant classic and takes the crown of SWORD OF FARGOAL for me.

Disappointment – Victoria 3

I was really looking forward to this game all year, especially after the horrible addiction that I had to Crusader Kings 3 and my love of Machiavelli the Prince, Port Royale and similar economic games. Victory 3 was just very strange to play and figure out, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing or what effects my actions actually had. Maybe there’s just too much going on, but one thing I will tell you in the hours I played: I was bored. CK3 set a high bar for strategy games (as well as Stellaris). I will give this another go at some point, but there’s been the call to Crusader Kings 3 again that has made it impossible. Why mange budgets when you can get cheated on by your spouse with your own bastard son of her mother’s!

There’s some great games that I got to play over break, but that’s going to be a separate post.

Music

My record of the year is CYGNI 61 by RTR. I didn’t listen to much else that was new. A new LORN just dropped recently so that will be on the list for 2023.

Hottest chick on the planet (2022 edition)

Rebecca Bagnol

Stella Maris – thoughts and feelings

Stella Maris is the follow up to Cormac McCarthy’s The Passenger which I blathered about a few posts ago. It’s a short book and consists, except for the very first page which is an admission letter, of conversations with no exposition or descriptive text between Alicia Western and her shrink. There are no other characters in the story and this will remind people of Sunset Limited, parts of the Stonemason and bits of the Counselor (especially if you read it rather than saw the movie). This is functionally a prequel to the Passenger, but should not be read first. In the Passenger, Alicia is already dead but it’s important to see the effect of her life and death in the Passenger and to those characters before reading Stella Maris.

While this is a very short book, it’s quite dense and I think it’s important to have a good reference to the history of mathematics handy when you read it. Alicia is a mathematical genius on a level where she cannot even explain the problems she is working on to laymen because she cannot fathom why they cannot understand even the basics. There are many references to actual mathmagicians in the book and getting even a cursory understanding of the core problems they were working on will help understand what Alicia is talking about when she references them, and it happens often since she is completely obsessed with math.

One disappointment that people may feel is that the mystery presented in the first novel is not resolved to any normal reader’s satisfaction, but there are pointers in Stella Maris about what could have happened, or rather, the situation in which humanity is in that would allow such a thing to occur. There are science fiction aspects to both of these books, but it’s all held very close to the chest as to whether any of it is real or not. I think it is, as the manifestations of Alicia’s imagination are different from the manifestations that visit her that seem real (the Thalomide Kid and his entourage). The ‘Alicia parts’ of the first book are explained in this one as ramifications of Alicia’s subconscious, driven by her intense and unending focus on mathematics to “peek under the door” of reality, which earns her a glimpse into the horrifying underpinnings of existence itself which is enough for her to quit the study of mathematics entirely and check herself into a mental hospital. This is all complicated by the fact that she is in love with her brother– the core issue that the Passenger is about except on the other side of the equation.

The love story between Bobby and Alicia is a direct analogy to the relationship between physics and mathematics. The age difference, the incestuousness are all messaging around the interplay over time of math and physics.

Both of these books deserve a read, but be prepared, these are not easy stories like The Outer Dark or even Blood Meridian. McCarthy expects a lot out of his readers with these. If anything, Stella Maris is short and I will tell you it’s worth it for the last line of the novel alone.

Thoughts on The Passenger

It had been a spell between Cormac McCarthy novels, with really no indication that he would put out any more work and then bam!, two novels announced to be released just a month apart from each other. I just finished the first one: The Passenger.

I’m not a particularly smart or clever man, prone to what I’ve imagined in my life to be typical GenX mental laziness about things, avoidance of any intellectual nuts that are hard to crack so to speak, so coming at a book like The Passenger is a struggle, probably more than any of McCarthy’s other novels since there is some sort of sub-text I simply cannot grasp quite yet.

The story is about two characters, a brother and sister, who basically share chapters. The sister’s parts are all in italic and seem to be in the past, and the brother’s are more straight forward linear and in normal font. The sister, Alicia, is dealing with what could be described as either manifestations of her imagination or supernatural entities throughout the novel, and the brother, Bobby, has an incident occur at the beginning of the novel that cannot be explained by natural law and what appears to be the fallout from that. Both are the children of a prominent nuclear physicist involved in the creation of the atom bomb and are potentially an experiment of some kind themselves.

The novel begins as what I would call a sci-fi mystery novel. An impossible event happens and the protagonist (Bobby) is the reader’s view into how, what and why of that event as the novel unfolds– except that’s not what happens at all. The novel veers almost entirely away from the initial mystery and settles on a series of conversations between the protagonist and an array of odd characters, slowly allowing the reader to piece together the relationship between Bobby and Alicia, their father and these imaginary constructs/ outworld entities. Except for a few parts, it is a very sad and heavy story, Alicia is found dead in the first few pages and not much goes right for Bobby at all at any point in the novel. It did have me laughing out loud at one section wherein a story is told about a man who could drink a glass of milk with his dick.

I can’t go on with out serious spoilers, but I will say this was tough to get through from about the halfway point to the end and I kept waiting for some sort of major event or confrontation, but it never happens, like the entire second half of the book is a denouement for some climax the reader isn’t in on. For those of you that read The Crossing, this is similar to the characters of Billy Parham and his brother– Billy is the character that has the least interesting story of the two characters, as the brother, who dies, fights as a revolutionary in Mexico. It feels like Alicia, who is dead in ‘real time’ in the novel, is the true protagonist if that makes sense. It’s her internal conflict against whatever it is she’s battling (math?) that is the real crux of the story.

If you are familiar with McCarthy and his books, definitely give this one a go, it reminded me most of Suttree and a bit of The Crossing, but also the Three Body Problem if you are familiar with Cixin Liu’s work. If the Passenger would be your first exposure to McCarthy, read at least one other first, notably either The Outer Dark or No Country for Old Men.

His next novel, Stella Marris came out about a week ago and focuses more on the character of Alicia and continues the story.

Kevin O’Neill has passed away

O’Neill was (as a kid) and is (as an adult) one of my favorite comic artists. His work on Marshall Law was absolutely brilliant and all of his work on the League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen puts him into the comic legend category. Marshall Law got me through some tough times as a teenager (as well as Marvel’s Epic magazine an ROM if you can believe that) so I have a soft spot for everything O’Neill. If you haven’t read the League comic, I cannot recommend those enough– just make sure to start with Volume 1, then 2, then the Black Dossier and move on from there to Century: don’t skip around or start with River of Ghosts or something like that.

Here is a random sample of his work (trying to go chronologically at least).

He-Man is 40 years old

Wow, time flies. These buff, ridiculously colored and named action figures absolutely captured my imagination when they came out and I collected quite a few of them along with the repainted GI Joe tiger (Battlecat), Castle Greyskull (nowhere near as cool as the box OR the prototype used for the commercials) and a bunch of the early wave figures (pre-snakemen/horde/She-Ra) as a kid and constantly played with them for years. I could only bring a few toys with me on a cross-country train trip when I was 11 and it was Skeletor, Man-at-Arms, He-Man and Beastman FTW.

I loved the little comic books that came with the figures, and my personal canon for how He-man got his powers is contained in the first little book that came with him. He was a savage man in the jungle that saves a hot green chick from a giant hydra monster. She gives him the Battle Ram, Shield and Chest ‘armor’ that acts as a force shield and increases his strength and sends him forth to go kick some ass!

Skeletor and Merman watch as Skeletor’s ghost gets punched the fuck out.

The old cartoon was like a painful parody for me, having played with Skeletor, Merman, Beastman, He-Man, TriKlops, Trapjaw, Man-E-Faces, and Man at Arms for more afternoons and weekends with friends and my brother than I can possibly remember. Together we created sword and sorcery adventures and back stories for these guys expanded from the little books which were blown to shit by the rather silly cartoon show. It never grew on me since, but the 2002-2004 show was absolutely baller in comparison.

Fast forward quite a few years and Mattel has created what I believe to be the absolute best relaunch of action figures in history: the MOTU ORIGINS line. While I have my beaten and mostly broken figures from the 80’s, these new figures are better in every single way, tough, solid colors, very well articulated. It’s been a guilty indulgence to collect some of them at first and then– I just went and bought just about everything. Luckily I have a son just a bit older than when they first came out who plays with them sometimes: an easy excuse to by more and slip them into stockings and Xmas gifts. I also buy a bunch to donate to toy drives around Christmas because holy shit— any kid that gets these for Xmas of a certain age is going to be totally fucking stoked.

Fisto loves the fisting.

Figure wise, everything is top drawer, and they really tried to capture the spirit of the older figures and create the new, far better, articulated versions. What’s more, they can all be taken apart and rejiggered into new monstrosities. He-man head swapping is a must as the stock head isn’t the CONAN head from the original figure but a more cartoony one (that looks great, it’s just not exactly He-man to me).

My favorites are Merman (powerlord version), He-Man himself, pre-Skull Skeletor, and, very unexpectedly, ORKO. The Orko figure is just brilliant and super cool to look at. He was my most hated character in the show… so that says something as to how good this figure is.

There was, of course, trouble with acquiring some of the core figures and I still do not have Trapjaw or Triklops as they were part of a ‘missing wave’ of figures between Walmart’s exclusive rights for the first waves and the rest of the stores getting their waves. Sad because those were two of my favorite figures.

The Orko Figure in all his glory.
My son again allowed Skeletor’s ghost to get destroyed, this time by Clamp Champ

The line now is getting into eras of He-man when I was in late Jr High and high school and just didn’t follow, but I’m looking forward to some of the stuff (Skeletor’s rotating attack vehicle and some of the super cheesy She-Ra figures) and I’ll keep using the excuse of having a kid that likes to play with them as long as I can!

Stable Diffusion craziness

AI image generation is a fantastic new time waster, and I’ve been very guilty of it recently! I messed around with Stable Diffusion in online generators, but after awhile got sick of the wait, the censored images and the fact that you can only do a few at a time and bit the bullet for a local install with a GUI over the top. It was easy to set up (mostly just had issues with the python/torch install), and I was off to the races.

While stable diffusion has massive limitations on what it can generate successfully, it is simply amazing at what it does well: Single subject images and landscapes. Combine these together and you can get some awesome pictures– try anything compositional and you will get total crap every single time.

Syntax wise I did a bit of searching and found this below, which has worked very well. You can put in anything you want, but fine-tuning your prompts is very important to the output.

“A [type of picture] of a [main subject, mostly composed of adjectives and nouns -avoid verbs-], [style cues]

Use of parenthesis apparently increases the weight of the item in the list, such as:

A painting of an alluring young woman wearing a (((translucent dress))) wading under a waterfall. Chiaroscuro. Volumetric lighting. Highly detailed. Realistic. Sensual. (Silky straight long hair). By Luis Royo, William Adolphe Bouguereau, John William Waterhouse, Terry Moore, Daniel F Gerhartz, Thomas Kinkade.

Not quite an alluring young woman…

You are going to get those ((two things)) almost every time.

Running Prompts

You may get good results with a couple tries, but usually when I have a solid prompt, I run a few hundred or more images and then delete all but 4-5 of them that are good. SD cannot do HANDS and cannot do EYES well, or we are very good at picking out the fact that those are messed up compared to other parts of a person. Just remember when you run prompts– most of the results will be just OK but not perfect. When you find stuff you like, that’s when it is time to upscale the image.

The easiest ones are just: [Subject], [Artist name]. James Jean, Ashley Wood, William Waterhouse and Peter Paul Rubens are some of my favorites to add. For example:

Grace Kelly by Peter Paul Rubens.

great composition, good background, excellent face, terrible hands.

Favorite Prompts

Here are some of my favorite prompts so far:

(Monstress), centered, award winning line art illustration, detailed, isometric illustration, drawing, by [Any artist you want]

adriana lima [wearing something] in world war one painted by Jan Steen

The above are all paintings for the most part, when you get to photography, you can select the type of camera, the mm and the focus. Since these are all TAGS on the internet that millions of pictures have, the engine will know what to do with them.

Below is my absolute favorite prompt. It generates some silly stuff. I usually use Barbara Palvin/Kate Upton or some other very famous actress/ model that has thousands of pictures tagged online. You could put in any superhero/villain but I would say roam on the more obscure level so not every picture is exactly like your chosen hero. The Tilt Shift with 34mm just makes something special every time. If you put in “superhero” every picture is basically Superman.

Kate Upton as Big Barda, 35mm, Tilt Shift

You can go to town with the photo details as below. Remember, images are created via tags online, so if a tag has tons of images, it should generate something close to your intention.

Eartha Kitt with wavy blonde hair wearing a tuxedo, athletic, wide shot, award winning photo, sharp focus, detailed, photography, 50mm

Any ‘composition’ will turn out shit, but will be pretty silly.

A painting of a Redneck Rampage by William Waterhouse.

Nothing makes any sense.

Feelings

You can add FEELINGS to prompts and the engine will try to render them. Anguish, rage, happiness, love, sensual all work well and will show up in subject’s faces.

multicolor drawing made of smoke texture of Richard Prior warrior with a giant hammer crushing a horse skull by william waterhouse in 4k ultra high resolution, with feeling of love

The key thing is to make a hottie, you have to select a man/woman that has many, many many pictures of them on the internet. This is why I think Chris Evans, Sylvester Stallone, Arnie, Brad Pitt, Lana Turner, Grace Kelly, Kate Upton and Adriana Lima worked so well paired with basically any artist in any era/genre. If you pick, say, Pricilla Huggins Ortiz, you won’t get as consistent results because there aren’t many images of her tagged in them in comparison. or she is confused with 1000s of other people with a similar name. I suspect highly the models were trained on Adriana Lima based on the output I’ve seen because how could they not be?

More monstrosities!

Red Sonja!
Your Mom Has a Tank Ass – Albrecht Durer.
James Jean Jesus
Eva Green as Avril Lavigne. haha.
Stacy Gwen.
Farah Fawcette as Big Barda. excellent hair.
Masters of the Universe— except a KEN DOLL.

I won’t put any nudes up, but I don’t see how SD can do boobs so well, but hands so terribly bad!

2022: The Yellow Jacket War

First day of Fall was a week or so back and I have one Summer credit to my name– I won the Yellow Jacket war. Over the years I have been stung by wasps, bees, yellow jackets, etc. but nothing like this Summer. It began with a mountain biking ride locally on some river trails. I made the mistake of moving a log that was jutting onto the trail, and before I knew it, I was swarmed with wasps and got stung 12-15 times (mostly on the lower legs and backs of the arms, with multiple stings in the same places). That was bad. I was laid up for about a day and a half on benedryl and lidocane creams and it took about 4 days before I felt somewhat normal. Not recommended.

Not a week or so after that, I pulled a weed out of the garden in front of my front door and bam! I got stung 4 times by yellow jackets right under a bush near the front door. it was a large swarm, right where the kids run out of the house and hide playing ‘catch the jarts’ or ‘soccerball to the nuts’ or whatever else they play out there. While I understood the attack while mountain biking, it was out in the woods and the wasps were protective of their home region, this time, it was my home region and I got real mad.

For any ground-based insect like Yellow jackets that live in a hole (usually old mouse or vole holes that have been abandoned), the solution is simple and does not need harsh chemicals or powders, just soap and water. At night (ONLY), seal the hole up with some screen so you don’t get mauled, dump a few cups of dish soap down the hole and then flood it with water after that from a hose. The soap prevents them from swimming and the water drowns them. Non toxic, fine for the environment and takes care of it in one night. The issue I had was finding the hole: this nest of Yellow Jackets was somewhere below or inside a fucking bush.

The first night I gave this a go, I fired dish soap into where I thought they were inside the bush, then just doused the area with water for about 5 minutes. I thought that this would work no problem, but the next morning when I got up to check, I shook the bush a bit and nothing came out, gave it another shake and bam! stung again on the arm. The nest was still active, though I think I caused some casualties as there were far fewer flying around when they got stirred up this time.

I left it alone for a few days but when I went to check on them again, I got a really nasty sting on the ankle (still itches like crazy). That was the final straw– they had to be destroyed entire.

Since I couldn’t find the hole above the nest, I just had to create a soap lake so large in the area and hope it got them. I got a big bucket and filled it with dish soap and water, enough dish soap to keep the water color BLUE and then I dumped it (again, at night– do NOT do this during the day) over the area, then fired the hose in from the top of the bush into it. I prepped and dumped two more buckets full of the soap water and then let the hose run into the area for 10 minutes at least, creating this mass of bubbles around, inside and below the bush. Since I couldn’t see the hole, I had no idea if it would work, but that was more water accumulation that that patch of ground had seen since 2009 when the whole area flooded completely.

As far as I can tell, this did the trick and they’ve either moved on (leaving a nest of dead larva in the ground) or are all entombed underground and food for other insects or voles… fuckers. I saw some beating around the bush that flew off again– not finding an open hole because it had been annihilated in the bubbly sea. Victory at last.

My favorite Cosmic Encounter Alien is back in action!

The SILENCER. With the Cosmic Odyssey big box expansion, they’ve brought back a classic.

These two images speak for themselves. This is not the best power, it’s not the strongest, it’s not going to win you games it’s specific functions is that it:

Here is the full rules. It’s not as harsh as the original one from the Mayfair version, but it’s excellent. Reminder that it’s EVERY destiny draw, not just as a main player. So aliens get ready to SHUT THE FUCK UP!

Bleeding Kansas – Mythras

I didn’t want to spill the beans before the sessions up North last weekend so didn’t go into any details other than it was “old west” stuff, but this scenario is set directly in the early months of the Bleeding Kansas proto-ACW era. We had a very solid couple of sessions over the weekend and I had a lot of fun as the GM for a few reasons. First, Mythras (Runequest 6) makes everything just work and I’ve played enough where I don’t need the book much at all. I love about 3 other systems (DCC, 13th Age, FASERIP), but Mythras is the numero uno. Second, the excellent Call of Cthulhu old west supplement by Kevin Ross called Down Darker Trails. It’s an excellent sourcebook for the genre and easy to read (very easy on the eyes too). Third, the Firearms supplement for Mythras– just made it easier to run gunfights with the custom special effects. Why Mythras over Call of Cthulhu 7? It’s just better.

Great cover too.

Buy IN

The initial events for the characters began on a train headed to St. Louis in April, 1855. The rear car was detached, unbeknownst to the passengers, and after it slowed to a stop, it was then boarded by miscreants who stated that it was a robbery, yet, it clearly wasn’t. The ruffians were after the daughter of a soon to be legislator in the newly organized territory of Kansas for reasons explained below. The girl was accompanied by a bodyguard and her nanny, the former being instantly shot on sight when the ruffians entered the train. The characters being of a violent sort, the guns (and knives) came out instantly and the PC’s, none of which knew each other, were then united as so many parties have been in the past in a shower of lead and wholesome violence. The heist set up was three men enter the train, shake down the passengers and grab the girl. Two waited outside in a carriage and one shooter perched 100 yards out from the train was to peg off anyone that tried to follow the carriage or run off. Once the girl was away the others would grab some hidden horses and be off.

This didn’t go as planned. The PC’s knifed and shot the three men on the train, leaving two stone dead and one with a gutshot, unconscious. They were then pinned down by the outside shooter but were able to shoot one of the men from the carriage (blowing his leg clean off) who came to investigate the shootings inside the train. The man in the carriage rode off top-speed at that point and the sniping shooter outside the train called it quits after taking a hit to the arm from another passenger and then being nicked in the head by one of the PCs.

From a combat perspective, this was very exciting with the length of reloads on all sides, maneuvering and using distractions in order to get the drop. Luckily only one of the PC’s was hit, and it was but a minor wound. I wanted the players to understand, outside of using luck points, they could be gunned down in a single round and needed to be cautious–the opposite of nearly every other RPG we play with the exception of DCC funnels and LotFP. Always use the firearms supplement actions and special effects in Mythras, even when just playing with bows and crossbows.

Now stranded between somewhere and St. Louis with two ruffians still about, they hid with the other passengers in a nearby dell for the night waiting for the next train or some help to arrive. They kept watch all the next day and the ruffians didn’t make another appearance. Eventually a train arrived and they were interviewed by the marshals on the incident.

The Hook

This lead to the big hook of the scenario where the players were interviewed by one Judge Morris who asked them to handle a sensitive mission to accompany three slaves through Missouri to the Kansas territory, using whatever guile, tricks and violence they needed to to make it to Lawrence over the border and meet with a contact there. This seemed simple, except one of the “slaves” happened to be an Englishman of mixed birth who was carrying a packet of papers that would be difficult to hide if he opened his mouth or was allowed to act normally (remember in these times, a slave would never meet the eye of any white folks present unless directly spoken to and would walk in a non-threatening manner as to not draw attention to themselves). The other two were skilled tradesmen and would be set up as freemen in the new territory. Morris explained that this was a test of what may occur if other slaves in larger groups tried to cross into Kansas via the route they chose. The group was given an enormous sum of money to equip themselves and I was pretty scared as a GM that they would simply run off, but the prize at the end per-person was enough to start a business or some sort of racket, or innumerable bottles of whiskey, countless nights with whores of any race, creed or persuasion, so they agreed to pick up the soon to be freed slaves. They went to purchase materials for the trip (including a trunk full of ammunition) and while waiting for it to be delivered, went to pick up the ‘contraband.’

I made an apocryphal small town where they were to pick them up called Forsythe which was influenced by the “porters quarters” area of Gainesville where all the porters who all worked in mansions (not by modern standards) downtown, but lived in the middle of the town in an area with shacks, dirt roads and little running water. When I was there for college the area still had gravel roads!!

They picked up the slaves at a festival in the town that was just beginning and made off into the fields straight away, the biggest issue at first that that Englishman was wearing a suit, but realized they had a tail of a couple mounted men, and that’s where we had to call it.

I wanted to introduce some moral quandaries with the characters, but not so early in the scenario so they didn’t know what to do and didn’t follow story flags. The people who are sponsoring the slaves getting to Kansas by our standards would still be considered racists (maybe these days everyone born before 2001 would be considered one anyway), let alone your normal inhabitant of Missouri, but culturally things are on a continuum and not black and white, and this is a period where multiple groups came together to politically and violently oppose human bondage, even if they themselves felt they were superior to all other races (and were still in the process of wiping out the Native Americans). Like the article in the last post, if you want characters to talk to NPC’s and have political shenanigans, you must have a VERY deadly system, otherwise everything just gets attacked and overwhelmed when people get tired of talking. Within this backdrop of oncoming disorder and madness, the characters are thrust, with huge potential for both profit, roleplaying and being gutshot and left for dead or strung up on a tree limb in the middle of nowhere. Likely their involvement will throw gas on the fire and we will get some double or triple Hendersons out of the whole thing as we go on or they will just take the (ample) money they have at the first sign of danger and leave the foppish Englishman and his two companions to their fate…