Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Capoeira

I'm creating a new character for our Call of Cthulhu 1923 round and I decided to give him the martial arts skill. I never had a Cthulhu character who knew anything about martial arts, so that would be something new for me. I thought aloud about what kind I was going to use and Mr Bookscorpion suggested Capoeira.

Cool. It took me a while to come up with a plausible story that allowed the character to learn this and still end up in Arkham, but I managed, a crash course in Brazilian history included. After a further crash course in Capoeira, only theoretical unfortunately, I decided that it would have a very strong influence on the character and his behaviour. Of course it will give him an edge in a fight, but the important element of Malicia in Capoeira will have shaped his behaviour towards people in daily life. I think it will be wise to keep your guard up around this character and not to assume that you know his intentions.

It's fun to see a character go from statistics and a character sheet to a real, well-rounded person. I'm at the point where he pretty much writes himself after I found the element that makes him come alive for me.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

More Challenges

It's that time of year...a ton of new challenges are announced and I'm having a hard time not to pick too many. So in addition to the Library challenge and the Classics challenge, I'm going to add only two more. At least, that's the plan.

The third challenge will be the non-fiction challenge:


I've decided to host a challenge to motivate myself and others to read more nonfiction. To make it more of a challenge, the Non-Fiction Non-Memoir Reading Challenge will exclude memoirs, which seem to be the most read type of nonfiction among the book blogs I follow. Instead, we'll focus on learning about a variety of different topics and discovering new facts. The challenge will run from January 1, 2012 through December 31, 2012.

What Counts:
- Books can be any format (bound, ebook, audio) but must be written for adults or young adults.
- Books can cover many different topics, including science, technology, religion, sociology, business, biography, politics, economics, history, food, art/design, etc.
- How-to, self-help and travel books are permitted, as long as you actual read them cover to cover, and don't just use them as a reference.
- Crossovers with other challenges are permitted.

I'm going for the Diploma level, 10 books.

1. Bloodlands by Timothy Snyder
2. Oppenheimer and the Bomb by Paul Strathern
3. The End by Ian Kershaw
4. Jerusalem by Simon Sebag Montefiore

The fourth one is the War Through the Generations challenge:



War Through the Generation’s 2012 reading challenge will be World War I. The challenge will run from January 1, 2012, through December 31, 2012.

Rules:
This year you have options when reading your fiction, nonfiction, graphic novels, etc. with the WWI as the primary or secondary theme.

Books can take place before, during, or after the war, so long as the conflicts that led to the war or the war itself are important to the story. Books from other challenges count so long as they meet the above criteria.

I'm going for three books. One of those maybe All Quiet on the Western Front. It would be a re-read, but it's a brilliant book well worth a second look.

1. A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

Mao

I've read two Mao Zedong biographies this year. One was Mao - The Unknown Story by Jung Chang and the other was Mao Zedong by Jonathan Spence.

I liked Spence's book better because he's not so involved. Chang and her family suffered under Mao's regime and I got the feeling throughout the book that she felt the need to vilify him, taking care not to say one good word about him.

I've said before that I enjoy it when an author is passionate about his subject and I really do, but it shouldn't stand in the way of facts and objectivity. Mao certainly committed more than enough crimes and his actions can speak for themselves. There's no need for polemics. There has been criticism of the book regarding selective use of facts and evidence. I'm nowhere knowledgeable enough to judge that for myself, but it would fit with the impression I got when I read it.

The Spence biography is much shorter and much more matter of fact. It's a good first choice if you want to learn more about Mao and gives the reader the knowledge needed to better understand this part of Chinese history. I would recommend it to anyone looking for a good Mao biography. The book by Chang is not a good choice if you don't have any prior knowledge - at the very least I would recommend getting your hand on some reviews and commentaries regarding the book. That's a good idea in any case when it comes to reading non-fiction both on-line and off-line), especially when it concerns a topic you're not knowledgeable about (sorry, I got librarian-ish there for a moment).

Mao - The Unknown Story is my 45th and Mao Zedong my 46th book for the Library Challenge.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Unearthly Sound

Listen to this.

Take a guess at what makes the sounds.

I came up with the sounds Saturn makes in the recordings Cassini made. But it's a bearded seal, Erignathus barbartus. That's hands down the most weird sound I have ever heard from any living thing. It's not exactly known why the seals make this sound, but it's probably a mating call or a call to claim a territory.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Man with Zither Repels Invasion

Meet Zhuge Liang, the man who fought back a superior enemy with the help of a guqin and an open gate.
I wanted to write about this guy in my Wargaming with Gandhi post, but I couldn't for the life of me remember the details or where I read about him. Cracked.com of course, where else.

It's in all probability a fictious account, but there have been real uses of this strategy. It made its way into the Thirty-Six Stratagems book, which is a worthwhile read for gamers, wargamers and roleplayers both. Here's a copy in English and French.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Mirageographer

Mirages are just optical illusions, right? Not so, says Jakub Keskin, head of the mirageographers' society. That's a common misconception. In fact, mirages are byproducts of warps in spacetime and can be used for greatly accelerated travel to the place they show. The only problem is predicting the appearance of a mirage and that's what the mirageographers are trying to do. It used to be a timecomsuming task, with a lot of waiting, but the modern age with the arrival of cameras and videophones everywhere has made it a lot easier.

Jakub inherited his interest in mirages and his spot in the society from his mother Maryam, who was the first to travel the famous and elusive Herðubreið mirage, correctly predicting the exact time and place the mirage appeared. He has concentrated his research on Peru and Chile and has lately come to believe that mirages may allow not only travel in space, but also in time. Jakub has high hopes in the Atacama mirage, which he has already predicted, but not yet travelled, and he is mounting an expedition to do just that. Considering that it may be a one way trip into the distant past, he has had some difficulties finding companions, but he is determined to go. Alone, if he must.

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I came up with this after a prompt from Burning Zeppelin Experience and it's been hanging around ever since. Feel free to do something with it, if it inspires you.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Wargaming with Gandhi

I showed Mr Bookscorpion the video here of Peter Cushing wargaming - and wouldn't it be awesome if we had a video of him playing a game with Christopher Lee?. I also mentioned that I came across an interview with Vin Diesel where he spoke about playing D&D with Karl Urban and Judi Dench, who I didn't think could get any more brilliant, but it seems everything's better with RPGs. And possibly Ninjas.

Aaanyway, we threw around the question who we'd want to invite to gaming night if we could. I'd totally go for Cthulhu Gaslight with Mark Gatiss and for whatever Neil Gaiman would be willing to run. I've seen Neil Gaiman a few times at readings and, aside from being an awesome writer, he also can turn just about anything into a story people get drawn into. If that doesn't qualify someone to be a great GM, then I don't know what does.
Richard Feynman would probably have presented a challenge for GMs because I'm sure he would have come up with creative and outrageous ways to solve problems.
I'm not sure I would actually want to play a game with him, but it would be interesting to see what kind of system and character Siegmund Freud would choose.
I'm not a wargamer, but I can't help but wonder about wargaming with Gandhi. Do the rules handle civil disobedience and passive resistance?

Who would you pick for a game?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

A Classics Challenge

The year's not over and I'm already collecting new challenges. I've already signed up for the Library Challenge and today I came across the Classics Challenge. Here's how it works:

Read seven works of Classic Literature in 2012
Only three of the seven may be re-reads

Instead of writing a review as you finish each book (of course, you can do that too), visit November's Autumn on the 4th of each month from January 2012 - December 2012.

You will find a prompt, it will be general enough that no matter which Classic you're reading or how far into it, you will be able to answer. There will be a form for everyone to link to their post. I encourage everyone to read what other participants have posted.


I haven't come up with a reading list, I think it will be spur of the moment. But I do know that next year A Tale of Two Cities and I will go into a room and only one of us will come out. I'm not a fan of Dickens, but I gave up on him before I ever read Tale of Two Cities and it sounds like I might enjoy it.

1. Death in Venice by Thomas Mann
2. Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse
3. A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
4. Antigone by Sophokles
5. Moon and Sixpence by William Somerset Maugham
6. The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells
7. Of Human Bondage by W.S. Maugham

Friday, November 18, 2011

Odd

Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman is a children's book set right in the middle of Norse mythology. I have a special liking for that mythology, I always found their gods to be very likeable and the thought that they have to face a destiny just as grim as that of any human fascinating. It may be the darkest mythology out there (I seriously wonder if the weather had something to do with that) and I love it.

Odd is a young boy who one day, during a very long winter, meets a fox, a bear and an eagle in the woods. It quickly becomes clear that the animals are Thor, Loki and Odin who have been turned into animals by one of the Frost Giants who has taken over Asgard. It was Loki's fault. No-one is surprised. Odd offers his help and off they go on a quest to win back Asgard from the Frost Giants.
IMG_0897

I loved the bickering gods, who even in their animal form have the feeling of power and mystery to them. The Frost Giant is my favourite character, though, totally surprised by Odd and his carefree smile and willing to listen to him. The solution to the problem is beautiful and simple and satisfying. I also like that not everything is perfect in the end - in Norse mythology it never is - but it's good enough.

The illustrations by Brett Helquist are beautiful, as are the headers of each chapter. There's no need to know anything about the Norse gods to like this book, but if you do, it makes it even more enjoyable.

44th book for the Library Challenge

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Cthulhu: Waterworks

Dramatis personae:
Liam, longtime and astonishingly sane survivor of quite a few adventures. Liam's a professional poker player with ties to the Irish mob. He saw his two best friends die not so long ago...actually, one of them committed suicide right in front of Liam and he killed the other one by accident, in an attempt to save both their lives. Long story.
Let's just say Liam is tired, struggles to keep a grip on reality and basically just wants to be left alone. Especially since his last encounter with the supernatural was just two days ago.

Shane: a Catholic priest with ties to some strange organisation. The parish is plagued by money problems, but Shane has refused an offer by Irish mobster O'Bannion to rent out the cellar of the rectory.

Ian: stuntman and odd job man - too old for Hollywood. Is offered work sometimes by a director friend of his.

The three characters have been through one adventure together prior to this. It all takes place in Arkham in 1923.

NPCs:
Danny Baker: sergeant of the Arkham PD with a lot of experience and street smarts. He has seen quite a bit of Arkham's less pretty side and knows Liam well, but at the moment he would prefer it if he didn't see Liam for a while. Too many strange things have happened.
Seamus: Liam's best friend for the last 30 years or so. Their friendship has suffered a bit when Liam found out not too long ago that Seamus is a warlock (although one who fights evil). They still are friends and Liam trusts him, but it's no longer the blind trust he had before.


Shane's hopes for a quiet evening are squashed when he finds out that one of the nuns. Sister Susan, who work for the church has disappeared. He tries to report her missing, but the officer is very much not interested and tells him to come back when she's still missing tomorrow.

click to read the whole adventure

Liam doesn't get the chance to relax either. He gets a call from McDeath (one of the mob's most feared enforcers) about a body that has been found, McDeath wants his opinion. After all Liam's been through, he's something of the go to-guy for strange things, even though people only know half of what has really happened.
The body looks like it has been suck dry of any moisture and the two fist-sized holes in his chest can't have been good for his health either. Liam notices something like spider webs in the mouth of the corpse and for a moment it looks as though they move. He has never seen anything like this before, but agrees to keep his eyes open. McDeath also tells him that there's a new drug on the streets, something that targets people who were before known to be teetotallers and even children.

Ian gets a job offer by his friend and an invitation for breakfast, along with the lead actor of the planned movie. Both movie and breakfast are cancelled when the actor collapses and dies after two spiders come out of his mouth.Ian manages to squash one of the spiders under his boot and quickly has to get rid of the boot when the spider's blood starts to eat through the leather. Rattled by the experience, he calls Shane.

Shane has just been told by his housekeeper that she accepted O'Bannion's offer after all to finally get the money she needs to keep the church and rectory in shape, not to mention to buy food. He's furious, but not furious enough to refuse the dinner she made. He has too much on his hands in any case because he gets a call by Sergeant Danny Baker, who tells him that Sister Susan has been found dead. Shane goes to identify the body, which looks almost exactly like the one Liam has seen. Danny looks exhausted and seems to have too many things on his mind. He can tell Shane that Sister Susan was fished out of the Miskatonic by a Chinese fisherman and that she was probably abducted somewhere at the docks, where she went to buy fish.

Liam takes a stroll and he does notice quite a few people who seem drunk or drugged. He notices one of them drinking from a bottle and when the man sit down in a doorway in a drunken stupor, it's fairly easy to steal the bottle. The liquid is clear and smells of nothing much. Liam calls in a favour with a private investigator he knows to get the stuff analysed, but it will take some time. In the meantime, there's another body to see, this one with a rambling letter talking about dreams and visions and mentioning the name Yao Tien.

Shane and Ian decide to call Liam to see if he has heard anything and he agrees to meet them at the rectory. They exchange information and come to the conclusion that it would be very easy to mix the drug into the Arkham's water - especially since there have been problems with the water supply and the waterworks are doing repairs at the moment. They decide to go to Danny Baker with their suspicion. Liam says that it might be better if he didn't get involved with Danny just now and waits outside with Ian.

Shane talks to Danny Baker and tells him about Yao Tien - a name Danny knows and he asks why Shane knows it. Before Shane has to lie, Liam and Ian burst into the room. While Danny is not overjoyed to see him, he at least agrees to share what he knows with them and tells them that Yao Tien is probably the one who manufactures the new drug, but the liquid Liam found is probably something different. When he mentions the Dreamlands, Liam goes very quiet, staring Danny down until he sends the others out of the room. Danny has seen a bit too much over the last few months and while he blames Liam for some of it, at least he can talk to him freely.

Danny knows that there are plans to poison the water supply of Arkham, although he cannot prove it. He would be willing to go with them to the waterworks, along with some other policemen he trusts, but he warns Liam that this may well end with the destruction of the waterworks, which would mean a catastrophe for Arkham (the water of the Miskatonic is not fit to be drunk). After some deliberation with Shane and Ian they decide to go through with their plan next night.

Liam goes to visit Seamus to ask him about the Dreamlands and Seamus tells him that he can bring them into the Dreamlands where they could fight their enemies without risking Arkham. Their lives would be very much at risk, though. Liam feels that he hasn't much to loose in any case and wants to go. Shane and Ian are not so convinced when he talks to them and ask to meet Seamus.

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Liam has been my character for a very long time...well, at least for Call of Cthulhu. I've been playing him for almost two years now, over the course of a lot of adventures. He was lucky enough to retain a healthy chunk of his sanity, as far as game mechanics are concerned. But at this moment, he's just mentally exhausted from all the things he has seen. He used to lead a fairly comfortable and secure life, despite or maybe because of his association with the Irish mob. Over the course of the last eight months or so this changed: he discovered that there are very unpleasant things lurking just around the next corner and he feels that he cannot escape. And while he still trusts Seamus, the discovery that his best friend has lead a double life for who knows how long has not helped with restoring his faith in the world.

I have a distinct feeling that Liam will not survive this adventure or if he does, he will be insane. That's actually pretty awesome - I never thought he would last as long as he did and it is such a lot of fun to play his slow slide into madness and chaos. I will probably retire him even if he does survive and stays sane, but I would prefer him to die or at least go mad.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Cthulhu Gaslight: Breaking and Entering

Dramatis personae:
Daffyd (Dai) Iffans, retired soldier of the British Indian Army (Rifle Brigade), now part-time writer for a Socialist newspaper, with an interest in the East End
Catherine (Cat) Kincaid, journalist and daughter of a well-known scientist

The place: London
The time: April 1890

Cat receives a letter from Edmond Kruger, a good friend who has died surprisingly. In the letter, Edmond tells her and Dai about a temple he has discovered beneath London and asks them to help Rachel, his sister, in further exploring and excavating that temple.
Dai and Cat have met the sister before and neither of them had a great liking for her, but since it was the last wish of their friend, they are willing to meet with her at least. They get a rather frosty reception, but didn't expect anything less. Rachel is willing to accept their help and will provide them with money, but she also asks that they report any developments to an associate of hers, William McKennan - who seems to be something of a thug, but an intelligent one. The worst kind.
If things go as planned, he will go along with Cat and Dai once they have found the temple. Rachel also gives them a second letter her brother wrote which she cannot read since it's written in code. Cat and Dai both have the cypher for the code, but somehow neglect to mention this to Rachel.

click here to read the whole adventure

They translate the letter and find a mention of a safe deposit box at the Bank of England, instructions on how to find the temple, along with a warning to keep an eye on McKennan - not that they would have needed that. The temple is located right under Westminster Abbey, not the best place for an excavation.

Unfortunately, there's no key to the safe deposit box and so they decide to ask Rachel about it...breaking into Westminster Abbey will be enough illegal activity and as Dai puts it: I draw the line at the Bank of England. Rachel is visibly surprised when Dai asks about the key and he realises he should have kept it to himself, at the latest when he hears her order McKennan to go and look for the key.

Dai manages to turn up at Edmond's house before McKennan and is allowed to look for the key by Edmond's housekeeper. There's clearly no love lost between her and McKennan and she even keeps McKennan occupied when he arrives, allowing Dai to pocket the key and leave via the back stairs.

At the bank, they find yet another letter and a pendant showing a pentagram with flames and a single eye, which they have encountered during their last adventure. The letter tells them what they had already suspected: Rachel is not to have access to the temple and she forced Edmond to write the first letter. Edmond also writes that the temple can be used as a portal and is much too dangerous to be left there. He asks them to destroy it, something he had planned to do himself and to which purpose they will find dynamite at his house.

Dai and Cat meet after dark and manage to slip into Westminster Abbey during Evensong. They find a handy corner to hide in, which is made easier by the size of the church that is also not well lit. Dai thinks he heard something and he suspects that they are not alone in waiting for everyone to leave, but he cannot spot anyone. After the church is empty, they wait for about fifteen minutes more, Dai patiently, Cat less so. When nothing has moved by then, they make their way to the altar with as little light and noise as possible and they do find a loose flagstone that reveals an underground passage. The passage seems to be in use and it's actually lit by candles.

Dai still thinks they are being followed and they wait again. Whoever follows them has no choice but to use the entrance through the flagstone as well and it's a good place for an ambush. Which is exactly what this turns into when after ten minutes or so, McKennan climbs down through the opening, armed with a revolver. Dai has no intentions of waiting for him to get into a position where he can use the gun, especially not with Cat as a target and he shoots McKennan, killing him pretty much instantly.

The sight of all that blood sends Cat into a slight shock, but they continue on their way once Dai has picked up McKennan's revolver. They know that Rachel is somewhere up there, she was behind McKennan when he got shot, but they want to reach the temple as soon as possible now. The instructions Edmond left are very clear and it's not hard to find the otherwise well-hidden place where a sort of pit cage descends. At that time, they both have enough of their hearing back to notice footsteps behind them. They don't relish the thought of climbing into the pit cage and leaving the controls for their pursuer to play with, so they once again hide and wait in the dark.

They cannot see who is coming after them and Dai hesitates, he doesn't want to shoot someone who wandered down here by accident (the way is not hard to find since they didn't take the time to hide their tracks). Cat attacks the person, trying to knock the lantern out of her hands, but fails and almost gets shot. That's the cue for Dai to fire and he kills Cat's attacker with a shot to the head. In the light of his own lantern, he finds that it's indeed Rachel, but he doesn't take much time to dwell on that because Cat is lying motionless on the floor. She's fine when he picks her up, just in shock, but it's still a frightening moment.

While Cat takes a moment to get a grip on herself, they both notice that Rachel's blood is turning black and seems to be moving. They have no idea what is happening, but they are not staying to find out and continue down to the temple. It's impressively big, looking almost like a Maya temple, with some details not found in any Meso-American temple, like the big crystals along every flight of stairs.

They are still busy with preparing the dynamite when a huge black amorphous mass oozes into view and makes a straight line for the crystals. A bullet does nothing to stop the monster, but at least it doesn't take an interest in Cat or Dai, who hurry to light the fuses and then try to get away as quickly and as far as possible. They make it to the pit cage and up to the tunnel before the explosion and get out into Westminster Abbey despite the shaking, crumbling ground. Cat loses her composure when a spectre rises out of the tunnel, like a monstrous jellyfish with big yellow eyes, and she runs out into the street. Dai follows her, hoping like hell that they don't run into a Bobby and eventually she calms down. They return to Dai's flat, Cat doesn't want to be alone now and Dai is not up to explaining to her housemaid why he wishes to stay the night.

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To anticipate any questions about the effectiveness of Dai's shots: I rolled an insane amount of damage both times and a critical success when shooting Rachel. Guns are very, very deadly in Cthulhu.
We took a bit more artistic license with the dynamite, at least to my knowledge. It really is fairly easy to handle, but destroying a big building with it would require a lot more planning that we did. Not to mention the effects on Westminster Abbey. But that's a case of not letting facts get in the way of the fun and I'm not complaining. Although it would have been cool to wreck Westminster Abbey.

This adventure brought out the more ruthless side of Dai's character and I'm glad it did. It's something he has never really dared to talk about with anyone, but he does want to. He invited Cat to ask him about his time in India a while ago and we'll get to that conversation the next time we play. The GM is looking forward to leaning back with a drink and just watching the show.

Something that amuses me, although I could have foreseen it: Dai enjoys Cat's company and he likes her adventurous nature, but he's also terrified that something will happen to her. At times, he is tempted to tell her to stay behind, to leave things to him, but he knows fully well that the best reaction he could hope for would be a "don't be ridiculous". This might make for some interesting roleplay later on.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Artworks I'd Steal: Nightmare

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I saw Gothic ages ago and there's a scene that re-creates the painting. I think that the actual painting is also displayed in the house were the film is set. It's about as Gothic as you can get, it has everything the genre calls for: horror, mystery, fear of the unknown (or maybe just your subconscious) and lots and lots of sexual tension.

The nightmare is not the horse and it's not called nightmare because of any connection with female horses. The Mare is a goblin-like creature that will sit on people's chest while they sleep, which causes bad dreams. But the horse is also a nod to folklore, there were tales of people who were visited by horselike spirits. It may be just the Mare's horse, though.

I wonder about the caraffe on the nightstand. In the first version of the painting there's a jar and a small bottle. So what's in there, exactly? It could be just water, but I'm thinking along the lines of laudanum, which was incredibly popular at the time and often used as a sleeping aid.

The reason why I like this painting so much is that I suffer from sleep paralysis, which probably inspired the folktales of Mares, Incubi and Succubi (not to mention alien abduction). For a very long time, I did not know what was going on, until I read about it in Carl Sagan's brilliant book The Demon Haunted World. So I can relate to all the people who had to come up with some explanation why they woke up in the middle of the night, totally paralysed and maybe hearing voices or seeing creepy stuff in the corner of their eye.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Asking for it.

I wrote about the player who blackmailed the GM into accepting his character a while ago. At our latest session, things escalated a wee bit more.
Blackmail player, let's call him Tom, has a reputation in our group for recklessness and for wanting everything to go his way. He's also bad at accepting the consequences of his actions. Oh, and he manages to fall asleep every single time we play.

So we completed our run with a drug dealer tied to the flatbed of one player's pickup - we'll call this player Andrew. We were told to discourage the dealer from continuing to sell his drugs, by any means necessary. So Tom does a great job of intimidating the dealer, but we all see a messy end coming. Andrew warns Tom three times that we a. shouldn't do this in front of our employer's club and b. that he doesn't want anyone getting killed in his truck.

Despite that, Tom's character shoot the dealer right there. So Andrew's character (whom we all know has a violent streak) pulls a gun and starts shooting at Tom's character, killing him. Aaand this was the moment when Tom again picked up his things and left, totally outraged that Andrew had dared to attack his character.

Maybe shooting Tom's character was a bit extreme, but really - what did he assume would happen? Nothing? A slap on the wrist? He went out of his way to ignore what he had been told and he ignored the rest of the group - did so for pretty much the whole evening. It was like having a team of runners plus this guy who sometimes turns up and not in a good-natured "Dude, don't forget about Mark"-way. So on second thought, I can totally get behind shooting the character.

There are a few things that get on my nerve when roleplaying. But nothing is so annoying as people who want everything to go their own way, who confuse roleplaying with the latest computer game and who put their own fun before that of the whole group.
I actually do like Tom, he's a nice guy and he can be a brilliant GM and player if he wants to. But I can't say I'm unhappy that we will be playing Shadowrun without him.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Outland

Outland remains one of my favourite science fiction movies, I get a kick out of it every time I watch it. I'm not a big friend of utopian science fiction and Outland is about as dystopian as you can get without being downright post-apocalyptic.

Sean Connery is of course awesome as Marshall O'Niel, but Frances Sternhagen steals every scene they have together as the mining colony's doctor (I'm unpleasant, I'm not stupid!). I don't know, if I were O'Niel, I'd think twice about returning to that whiney wife of his.

Outland also has really gorgeous models. You can take a closer look here - the details are amazing. This photo gives an idea how big the models actually were.

You can see them in the movie here:

I love that they animated Jupiter's atmosphere, that's a neat little detail.

If you plan on running a scifi RPG set in a not so glorious future, then Outland should definitely be on your movie list. The crowded living quarters of the miners and the loud, shabby bar hit just the right tone. Space is not the place for privacy or comfort.

Oh, and despite the fact that it doesn't happen when you step out into a vacuum, I dig the exploding people.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

History of Private Life

I was looking forward to Bill Bryson's new book "At Home: A Short History of Private Life" and I was not disappointed. I love this collection of facts about everyday items we use and rarely think about.

The book takes the form of a walk through an old house in the English countryside, with each room giving a chapter its theme. Some of the things Bryson talks about are a bit random, but for me that just adds to the charm. I'm this ninja of random knowledge, my "did you know"s are known and feared and this book added considerably to my arsenal.

Seriously, I learned a lot about likely and unlikely things, I came away from the book with a list of further books to read and I laughed out loud quite a few times. If you don't mind taking a walk through a house with a companion to goes off on a tangent once in a while, then go and read this book.

43. book for the Library Challenge

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

some other blogs

Here are some blogs I found that I've been meaning to link to for ages.

Shorpy gives us a vintage photo every day, usually from 1900-1920. It's a great resource and fascinating.

Mirrorshards is really short fiction, a couple of stories every week. Dark, funny and surprising.

Sheila O'Malley writes about books and movies and lately about Elvis Presley. She knows how to aim straight for the heart with her posts. When she writes about an actor, you will want to see a movie with him or her right now. When she writes about Elvis, you may fall in love (so you've been warned).

The Journal I Wish I Kept - just what it says on the cover. Eva has had an eventful life to say the least and her posts are hilarious and sad and touching. I started with Liberace's Love Child and that last photo never fails to make me giggle.

Cold Antler Farm - the story of a young woman who buys a farm and chronicles her adventures with sheep, chickens, horses and farm life in general. I find this deeply satisfying to read because it's so clear that Jenna loves her life. I guess I'm living vicariously here - I'd love living on a farm, but I don't think I'd enjoy all that hard, hard work enough. Or maybe I would. I'm too chicken to just go and buy one to find out, as Jenna did.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Georg Elser

There were many attempts on Hitler's life, but Georg Elser stands out. He acted alone and he acted very early in 1939, when for example the more famous members of the 20 July plot were still strongly supporting Hitler (in spite of their misgivings and doubts).

For a very long time, Elser was ignored by historians or it was assumed that he had been a pawn of the Nazis. It used to be common knowledge that he was a socially incompetent loner, whom people thought weird long before the assassination. This started to change with Hellmut G. Haasis biography "Den Hitler jag ich in die Luft" (I'm going to blow up Hitler) in 1999.

The author is passionate about his subject and it shines through in the book. This is frowned upon in non-fiction, but I enjoy it, as long as passion doesn't replace facts. Haasis gathered a lot of facts that were ignored for a long time and we're introduced to a very different person: not very chatty, but still sociable and well-liked. The book follows Elser as he decides to act upon his opinion that Hitler is a danger for Germany and comes up with a diligent plan to assassinate him. If you want to learn about Elser, there is no way around this book (go for the revised 2011 edition).

Here's a question: did he have the right to do what he did? Is tyrannicide allowed, is it ethical? Elser also knew that his bomb would kill and injure many more people than just Hitler, but he also knew that all or at least the vast majority would be dyed in the wool-Nazis. is that a tolerable price for getting rid of a tyrant?

My first impulse would be to answer that question hell, yes. Even though it's not possible to say what would have happened, the Nazi party would have lost many of its leaders in addition to Hitler if the bomb had gone off a little earlier and I think it would have collapsed. It was easy to see in 1939 that Germany was steering into a catastrophe and that the regime was about as far from lawful as you can get.

So, how many innocent lives are an acceptable price? There were not only Nazis at the Bürgerbräukeller, but also the people who just worked there (who may or may have not supported the party). Is it worth sacrificing their lives as well? And how many are too many - we can weigh their lives against the millions killed during the war and the Holocaust. But that hadn't happened yet, although it was clear that a war was very likely (and it did start a short while before the assassination) and that the regime was a murderous one.

It is my opinion that Elser did the right thing. He deserves a lot more recognition that he is getting in Germany.

There's a movie about him, Seven Minutes, that I can recommend. It's a good idea to read up on the actual facts, though, since some are changed in the movie. Still, it's worth watching.

42. book for the Library Challenge