Books of 2018

I read a bunch of stuff in 2018 so far.  Some of these you should read, some maybe not.

I started off the year LIGHT because I had just finished a heavy history of the early American Colonies that took months for me to get through (The Barbarous Years).  Heavy history is the real deal compared to the pop stuff most people read that I also, shamefully, like, but if you’re not in a scholarly mood, they can be rough.

The first book of the year was a Dashiell Hammett that I hadn’t gotten to yet: RED HARVEST (not the bullshit starwars novel).  Cool name?  Well that’s what the fuck it is.  The first half is excellent and then about the middle end, when one of the main characters gets knocked off, it feels a bit rushed to me, like Hammet didn’t want to revel in the final carnage and high body count (or felt it would be unrealistic for his protagonist to survive if shit got too crazy).  Overall a strong book in the genre and a fun read.  Recommended.

this is the worst cover of any of the printings…

Second, I stayed the course on the Pulp Crime but got into heavier, more nihilistic stuff with Jim Thompson’s Pop. 1280.  This is a classic untrustworthy narrator style book with a self-proclaimed idiot Sheriff of a small town who turns out to be quite different than he tries to lead the reader to believe.  This is one of Jim Thompson’s best.  Highly Recommended.

Since I borrowed it from a dude at work, I was obliged to read Guns, Germs and Steel next.  This is on the poppy side of history books but the author’s experience and angle through the narrative is unique, though I think the full extent of it would take many volumes.  What he sets out to answer to his Polynesian friend is why the white folks have all the good “cargo” and he does so by showing that development of different foods, domestication of certain animals lead to people in Northern Europe to become the dominant group (until they ended their dominance via WW1 and WW2, like all groups do, by annihilating themselves in internal conflicts— just like the Mongols and Romans did). While “guns” is in the title, it’s really about FOOD, DOMESTICATION and GERMS– but that ain’t a sexy title.  I disagree with his assessment that leader’s decisions do not truly influence the course of history of humanity.  Caesar and at least three of the Mongol conquerors changed things beyond recognition, yet he may argue in turn that they were playing with the same set of germs and steel where Polynesia and the Native Americans were not.  Recommended.

After this, I planned to read Twain due to promptings from Maat, but I realized I had not read the entire Border Trilogy yet and plowed through All the Pretty Horses in about a week, and then started on the beastly The Crossing, which is a much longer work.   All the Pretty is an excellent read and not too heavy, much like No Country for Old Men (a Jim Thompson novel if I ever saw one!) and The Road.   The main character, while incredibly capable at everything he does, is still believable and the mess he gets in with his friend Lacey is as interesting as it is horrifying.  This book was hugely influential on a lot of SCHLOCK films and books that got way more attention (Horse Whisperer, Brokeback mountain which shamefully steals lines of dialog DIRECTLY from All the Pretty Horses). Leave those aside and experience the real deal instead.  Don’t watch the movie.

The Crossing is more along the lines of Suttree (which is on par with Blood Meridian) but it doesn’t seem so at first, and I think the first 120 pages or so are astounding (the wolf part).  After the first act of the book, you realize that this is going to be a picaresque and not as tight as All the Pretty Horses story wise.  The book reminds me most of Stuart Little, except with a lot more violence and overt philosophy.   While All the Pretty deals with an amazingly talented cowboy, the Crossing deals with a much less ubermench as the main character, Billy, in fact you could say he’s not all that great at what he does, so is more relatable to the reader (like Suttree).  He gets in bad troubles after some really bad things happen to his family and his brother and then there’s a nuke (yes a nuke), but Billy is more of an observer than actor (like Suttree). In fact, his brother seems to have a much more exciting and book worthy existence than Billy does, and I think that’s one of the lessons of the novel.  While All the Pretty Horses is the most popular of these, some people really love this book out of the trilogy.  The beginning is so sad, I had to put it down for awhile, and then it gets worse.

Cities of the Plain is the sad ending to the Border Trilogy as it closes out the cowboy (and even rural) era of the United States in the wake of the Second World War and the rise of the Military Industrial Complex.  The book involves characters from both of the previous works and is a pretty rough ride at times.  The core plot revolves around the All the Pretty Horses guy and things go terribly wrong for everyone and the story ends in 2002, so the whole Trilogy goes from 1940 to then.  The best part of the book for me is when the cowboys go hunting for a pack of dogs that have been killing calf on the range, you want to find out how people should write stuff, look at that part.  This is a sad book as the end of the characters is also the end of a way of life.  What happened to Lacey?

I recommend these highly, and if one has never read McCarthy, probably start with All the Pretty Horses or Suttree.  I will need to read The Crossing and Cities of the Plain again to really assess how these fit into his whole body of work.  Obviously these books are an absolutely surreal experience and the prose is unmatched and not to be taken lightly.  I read these on the bus and would get to very important parts when people were talking or playing their shitty songs on their shitty phone speakers.

So next is Twain, lots and lots of Twain (then probably Blood Meridian or Suttree again, YAY!).

Info on Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 4th Edition

I’m keen on the new Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay developed by Cubicle 7, having played 1st extensively and 2nd edition a few sessions.  In my middle years, I see many, many flaws in both 1st and 2nd’s system, but the game had some high quality short adventures and, of course, the Enemy Within Campaign which I never got to run players through because they— became like chaos itself, spiked off into random directions mostly due to crimes, and I had to start giving them chaos attributes until we quit playing halfway through college.  Others had similar experiences.  It could be that the nihilism inherent in the late 80’s that seeped entire into the Warhammer world view made players inherently nihilistic as well, or maybe Slaanesh is just that attractive…

That brings me to 3rd edition WFRP and… my worry that any of the things in 3rd edition make it into 4th.  3rd was the prototype for the much refined Star Wars RPG from Fantasy Flight, yet it was a total mess and completely unmanageable at the table.  I played it once as a player and was astounded at the number of chits and cards and stuff, as well as how long it took to finish a small combat with beastmen.  In Mythras or D&D the fight would have taken 30 minutes of combat time, where 3rd WFRP took well over an hour.  Yet, 3rd edition had quite a few excellent adventures (Witches Song and the new Enemy Within for starters).

Here is a published list of features so far:

The d100 system used will be broadly familiar, but a new implementation designed to offer three ways of resolving actions:
1 – a decision based on the characters’ abilities

2 – a simple pass/fail test

3 – a more nuanced dramatic test giving a range of outcomes and success levels

  1. GMs are encouraged to tailor their use of these to suit their group’s preferences.
  2. The combat system has been designed to be quick, dynamic and exciting, with something happening as the result of every roll.
  3. Careers remain an important feature. Dom waxed eloquent about how careers help immerse characters in the world, and give them something to fight for. He also talked about how that was reinforced in the new edition by Ambitions – personal goals that characters work towards.
  4. You can initially play a Human, Dwarf, Halfling or Elf, and that range will grow through future expansions.
  5. Dom did also talk about our ambitious plans for expansions. An expeditionary approach to Lustria was mentioned, as was his excitement about Dark Elf politics and how he always wanted to go to Ulthuan.

Influence from 3rd aside, what I worry most about here is that WFRP 4e will be a ‘story game,’ leaning far towards something like FATE than anything my players and myself would ever want, but let’s see how this shakes out.   There is always the option of running WFRP with Mythras, which can’t be beat system wise.

Names for Maaaat

We play a bunch of RPG’s and Matt is castigated most of the time for his character names. So much so that he has descended into utter filth or silliness as a response. While I’m used to players naming their characters after other PLAYERS in the game, or some two word combo that turns out to be violent sexual imagery when pronounced, I seek to help matt with his naming problem and wasn’t sure how until I found this post about a neural network generating thousands of ‘fantasy’ names.

Here are some good ones out of the 10K+

Chagg Castlewink
Mira the Bastard
Ravelock Hewclot
Saltroth Dank
Varion Mandrin
Perry Bardwood
Mellock Fistbelly
Rhon Smallthorn
Maedo Balland
Poppy Didgins
Corvish Prinn
Temen Maft
Morrigan Hellioa Forgelock

LotFP – the Lay of Remy Pardue

While Rol20 13th Age is in hiatus, I decided to bust out a LotFP adventure I have been working on and we’ve pulled a handful of sessions off.

PC’s
Aleric the Pious (cleric) – played by mouth
Fred Fucher (specialist) – played by maat
Jaques Van Dam (fighter) – played by steve
Richard Quigley (fighter) – played by john
Titus Sphnchta (magic user) – played by maat the younger (the only character that speaks French in the group)

Spring 1619, London. The adventure begins with the two fighters and the cleric being hired to find a strange cube rumored to be at a monastery in southern France by a representative of the new Lord of Manchester who wishes to gift the thing to a friend. They are given a map in a water-tight tube to the monastery, ample supplies and petty cash to spend on the way as well as a ride to the continent via a river boat that can make the crossing captained by one Remy Pardue. They were warned not to go to Paris (as the country had just been in a small civil war between the Queen of France and the heir apparent).

The group met the boat captain and his crew on the Thames the next morning. All went swimmingly until the boat was moored at Ramsgate after a day coming down the Thames. The group stayed at an inn and the next morning the boat, Remy and his crew and the map, and all of their supplies and monies were gone. They punched out the barkeep (who told them Remy was a bit sketchy) until he told them to check another, seedier, inn on the wharf for news of Remy. Just then Titus and Fred Fucher arrived with a message from the Lord of Manchester (or rather, his man), that they were given the wrong map and to send the original map back post haste. Of course, they didn’t have the original map any more…

Checking the seedy Inn (the Dried Boar), they found one of his crew, Giles Jegou, who our of guilt, could not go along with the theft and became summarily drunk instead. He told the group that they might find Remy at his mother’s house west of Saint-Omer, otherwise he had no idea where he was off to.

With help from the bartender, they got passage across the channel that day and walked to Saint Omer from the coast, not quite penniless, but certainly not in style.

Saint Omer was having a market day and the town was crowded with merchants and shoppers, even early in the morning when they arrived. After some inquiry and paying of bridge tolls, they found the farm of the Pardue’s and approached. Two of the characters waited in a flowering apple orchard overlooking the main house and the other three went straight there. They found an old woman cracking nuts on the stoop, a young woman with long black hair hanging laundry on a line (mostly diapers) and another woman with long black hair carrying a swaddled baby. The old woman was Remy’s mother and she spoke the English, though with a rougher burr native to Bristol and such unsavory places. Somewhere in the house another baby was crying.

Titus told her they had something for Remy and were trying to find him. She told them the price to find him was the same whether giving or receiving. She brought out a gaggle of children of many ages from inside and around the house and that they must pick one to take with them as their ward, since the farm was poor and there were constantly new mouths to feed as Remy brought his impregnated wives to the house with or without other by-blows.

They selected the eldest boy (11) and she told them that they could name him as well if they wanted (they named him Timmy). Then she told them that Remy had been at the house just yesterday and had gone on about finding a crew quickly and he had an opportunity that would make him rich. She said he then went to Paris and they should not have trouble finding him on the way there if they hurry (!?).

The party left the farm with the child in tow and went north to the nearest livery stable to purchase some horses. They had very little money and asked the stable master if there was anything they could do to procure some horses. With the chaos in the country those days horses were not easy to come by, and he offered them a few horses if they burned one of his competitors stables down without hurting any of the animals. After some debate, they agreed and got directions.

On the road south, near again to the Pardue farm, they came upon one of the women from the house (Lucienne), one of Remy’s ‘wives’ who told them that the old hag was lying and if they took her with them, she would tell them where Remy really was and take them there. They again reluctantly agreed (“Should we still burn the stables down?”) and Lucienne took them into Saint Omer in front of the Hotel D’Ville, a three story Inn with a brewery and stables.

Spring 2018 LAN was goood

The weather this weekend was pure shit.  rain, then snow, then rain, then snow, then a lot of snow and all shit until late today.

We played all day Friday and Saturday and I think my eyes bled while I slept fitfully last night with the retinal burn.   Here’s what we got in on.

Zandorum Doom 2: both Free for All and vs the Monsters.  If you are an FPS player and haven’t played doom multiplayer to see just how fast an FPS can (and probably should) be, play Doom 2!  However, all the tricky giant maps with all the key searching was fucking annoying when playing with 5+ people.  Getting lost in Doom isn’t so bad because you rocket through the level, but when there’s a hidden door that leads to the other 50% of a level where everyone else is at, and you can’t find the fucking thing even with the map, it’s real annoying.

Quake Super8.  Maurice!Bastard got the multiplayer working with this excellent visual mod for Quake.  This one looks THE BEST and closest to my favorite Quake renderer:  Verite Quake, built specifically for the Verite video card.

Unreal Tournament 4:  This was the most balanced deathmatch that we played.  I had a ton of fun with this and it worked very well for the LAN, which is a rarity with new FPS games which are nearly all anti-LAN (Quake Champions for example) and take forever to get from one map to the next so players can get their ‘prizes for playing.’  This is most of a UT game, basically the team that was working on it went to go work on fortnight and it may never be worked on again.  Remember what happened to UT3 after Gears of War came out…

Quake 3: While far more balanced than Quake, I still like the original Quake better.  Q3 is super tight deathmatch though.

PUBG and the goddamn pubg event.  There was an event this weekend where you could drop into a small area of the first pubg map with a group of 10 players and fight until a certain number of kills were scored by a team.  While it gave a chance to use a bunch of weapons and constantly fight.  It was pretty frustrating most of the time.

Company of Heroes.  This was the only RTS we played and since people had seen me on steam playing PA:Titans, that was a no go.  People were OVER concerned at my skill at COH as well and it became obvious only after I was soundly beaten in a 3 vs 1 game.  This isn’t a super hardcore RTS and is pretty n00b friendly with the pacing and defensive nature of the game, so good for the LAN.  I really expected to be playing Dawn of War 3 instead of this but man– what happened to that game? Aesthetically awesome, but the gameplay was trash.

There was a mess of video captured during the proceedings, so I’ll get some posted as soon as possible for your viewing pleasure.  mraak.

Quake haiku 1997

Man oh man I submitted these over 20 years ago and found them again on accident during the LAN.  Reposted again with some notations and context.

– I hook far above,
– Dark shaft in House of Chthon.
– Ride the lift for me!
—- littlemute[WM]

There is a single lift to get from the bottom level to the top level in the map the House of Cthon.  If the server has the grappling hook, the level becomes a contest on who can get the rocket launcher and sit at the very top of the lift (where you cannot be hit from either level unless directly below) and just camp for frags the whole time.  Great stuff.

– Server a chat-room!
– My macros end the babble,
– I am nuked again.
—- littlemute[WM]

The thing that quake also did was have an easy way to chat with other people in real time.  This was not something that was all that easy to do in 1996, so people would use the quake server as a place to chat with each other rather than play.  You could bind keys to macros and spam them over and over and over (they fixed this in later versions of the game) which would lead either to a denial of service attack from someone else or getting booted from the server.

– Lava-less level,
– The shame of negative frags.
– Reconnect again.
—- littlemute[WM]

You could reconnect to the server to instantly reset your score to zero.  Pretty useless unless you are at negative frags….

from: https://www.quakewiki.net/archives/que/haiku/97-07.htm

Losing stuff with ideas in it !

Well, I found my notebook with my FASERIP BPRD notes in it in my daughter’s room after a few weeks of looking and even starting over in another notebook! I have a lot of notebooks and they have random ideas in them all over the place. I realize that most of them are places of dead roads that nothing will come out of except the fervent act of creation itself in the moment and that’s just dandy, but sometimes I have stuff written down that I aim to do things with, like finish a LotFP module the cartography of which ALSO was in the lost notebook! (one demand I have of my non work notebooks is that they are all graph paper). So now I need to finish off the maps and get this thing done.

Another issue is playtesting. I’ve had the thing read over by a few people and it’s been playtested once in 5E, but I haven’t done it, mainly because my roll20 group does not generally like the character thresher that is LotFP. It’s something I gotta do. It’s not a long adventure: 3-4 set pieces and some ‘connective tissue’ between if the characters take the bait.

This points to an organizational issue of keeping everything straight paper wise when you run and play 5-6 different RPG’s in a given year (13th Age, Into the Odd, lotFP, Mythras, FASERIP and Dungeon Crawl Classics in 2017). What I’ve started doing after my ‘trapper keeper’ idea sorta failed (it got filled with stuff from all sorts of games and it’s a fuckin mess) is get one of those zipper folders and put all of the crap for that game you are running inside. It has to be totally self contained except for the rulebook (which shit for most games you don’t even need if you’ve played enough), but if you have a small rulebook like the LotFP or Into the Odd books, throw it in there too. So, that’s all character sheets, the module, any previous module the characters have run through (trust me on that one, you’ll need it),  and all session notes. The key is to have EVERYTHING there, even if you have to throw a 95% empty notebook in there (what are they? 2$?), it’s worth it so you can grab and go even if it has been years since the last time you’ve run it.

Zipper thingy with the Kid’s campaign modules and notes, cat.