Thursday, 27 October 2016

The last five books

Prompted by this blog post, I've been thinking about how I find new authors and where I buy my books. I must admit that I'm not great at finding new authors - I tend to rely on old favourites rather a bit too much. So I thought I'd look at the last five books I bought (and I'm pleased to say that three of them were by new authors to me).

Anyway, here are the last five books I've bought: the why and the where.

Gut by Giulia Enders

Why? I've seen Gut in bookshops before, and there have been enough hints on some of the health programmes on television that have piqued my curiosity. So I was always going to get this (or something like it.)

Where? I bought this from Paragon Books in Sidmouth, a small independent bookshop. I must admit that I don't normally buy paperbacks (I'm too fond of my Kindle Paperwhite), but I know the owner and I wanted to support him.

So what did I think? I don't read too much popular science, but I found Gut fascinating. I've suffered in the past with a dodgy tummy, so it was about time I learned more about my gut. It's a great book for some choice quotes to share, but maybe not at the dinner table.

Gut is the first book that I've ready by Giulia Enders, so a new author to me.

The Fifth Witch by Graham Masterton

Why? I've been reading rather a lot of urban fantasy lately, largely because I've been thinking about a London-based urban fantasy game and I'm mining the genre for ideas. Overall, I'm finding urban fantasy a pretty mixed bag - a few gems with an awful lot of dross. The Fifth Witch, however, isn't urban fantasy: it's horror. And frankly after all that teenage angst it was a pleasure to read about some really nasty witches.

Where? I bought this for my Kindle, via the BookBub newsletter which sends me daily bargains. I probably wouldn't have tried it if it hadn't been cheap. I can't say it was brilliantly written, but I did enjoy it.

So what did I think? A bit of a guilty pleasure. I can't claim it was brilliantly written, but I liked the evil witches.

Graham Masterton is hardly a new author, but this is the first book I've read by him, so he counts as new to me. I'd read another one.

Deep Secret by Diana Wynne Jones.

Why? A few weeks ago I received my character hint for Across the Universe, uk-freeforms' next weekend freeform. Rupert Venables, from Deep Secret, is one of the inspirations for my character and so I thought I'd better read it.

Where? I bought this from Amazon, for my Kindle.

So what did I think? From what little I know about Across the Universe, this novel appears to be share a lot of the same concepts. It will be interesting to see what they use. As for the book itself, I enjoyed it overall, although I found the story flagging towards the end. I'd try another by Diana Wynne Jones (maybe even the next in the series).

And again, Diana Wynne Jones is new to me.

The Burning Man by Christopher Fowler

Why? I've been reading Christopher Fowler for decades, and I really enjoy his doddery old detectives, Bryant and May. This is twelfth in the series - although the detectives turn up in his other books as well (such as Soho Black).

Where? I bought The Burning Man from Amazon, for my Kindle.

So what did I think? I was always going to like The Burning Man, and so I did. I wouldn't start my Bryant and May journey here, though, I'd start with The Water Room the second in the Bryant and May series. (The first in the series, Full Dark House, has too many flashbacks and in my view needs to be read once you understand the characters.)

The Truth about Employee Engagement by Patrick Lencioni

Why? I've read quite a few of Patrick Lencioni's management books, and they've never been anything less than good. This was one that I hadn't read yet. (And technically I read Three Signs of a Miserable Job, which was the book's original title.)

Where? I listened to this via Audible (so Amazon, again).

So what did I think? Again, I enjoyed this. It's never rocket science, but Lencioni's advise is always straightforward and common sense. And as they always say about common sense, it's rarely that common... I'd recommend Lencioni's Five Dysfunctions of a Team first, though.

Looking back

This is fairly representative of the stuff I'm reading (or listening to) at the moment. Some genre fiction (fantasy and horror in this case, but often urban fantasy and science fiction), and some business/management/psychology stuff. Gut is probably the odd one out as a) I didn't buy it from Amazon, and b) I don't read that much popular science.

There are more new (to me) authors in this selection than normal. I am normally more of a creature of habit and I tend to return to the authors I know.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

The Crasta Demon

Dunstanburgh: my inspiration
for the castle in The Crasta Demon
"Ah there you are, Captain Wickham. I need you to take Senior Librarian Helsing here up to Crasta to investigate a reported demon. It’s probably nothing, but take Crowe, Loxley and Brikk with you. I’ll expect a full report on my desk on your return."

And so The Crasta Demon begins…

I wrote The Crasta Demon for the Furnace XI tabletop roleplaying convention using Fate Accelerated. Set in a fantasy world called The Great Circle, The Crasta Demon uses pre-generated characters because I find that works best for conventions and one-shots.

With five characters it took about three hours to play, with a fifteen minute break.

The Crasta Demon: scenario, pre-gen characters and background.

If you enjoy the scenario, I’d love to hear about it.

Monday, 10 October 2016

Furnace XI

The Garrison
Last weekend I had a wonderful time playing tabletop roleplaying games at Furnace XI, held in Sheffield’s marvellous Garrison Hotel. As usual I drove down and back each day, but this year for a change I actually ran a game.

Here’s how my convention went.

Slot #1: Fate Accelerated

This was my slot - I ran The Crasta Demon, a  Fate Accelerated demon hunt set in my own fantasy background. I had a full group (five players) and we finished just about on time, with a fifteen minute break. Everyone looked like they were having fun, and they threw me some curve balls that I had to think about, so that was good.

I tried out my "DramaAspects" again, and again some players took to them and some didn't. I'm certainly going to continue with it.

Because I knew that time was likely to be tight, I didn't roll the dice much, Instead, I assumed that all the bad guys would always roll zero on their Fate dice (actually the most likely result anyway), and that speeded up combat as I always knew what my result was.

There were only a couple of things I would do differently next time, both of which concern preparation rather than my running of the game:

  • For Fate pregens I would give each character five useful stunts, and let the player choose three.
  • I would give each character the rules summary and the background summary (which Richard did for his Owl Hoot Trail game).

Anyway, I'll post the scenario on the blog when I've made a couple of minor amendments to it.

Slot #2: Owl Hoot Trail run by Richard Lock

I played Tuco, a taciturn orc gunslinger in this fantasy Wild West game. Our mission was to find a railroad engineer and save the day from an evil railroad rival. While I took the name from Eli Wallach's character in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, I think I was channelling the Man With No Name as I pursued a shoot-first-don't-say-much-at-all policy.

I'd not played Owl Hoot Trail before, and I put my character in significant peril early on when I called out my arch enemy to a duel. It was the right thing to do storywise (him being my arch enemy), but I didn't realise quite how badly it could have gone until much later. Luckily the dice were with me.

I liked the character packs (character sheet, map of Perdition, rules summary) that Richard provided - I will do that next time.

Slot #3: An early night

The biggest downside of not staying on-site is that I miss the Saturday evening slot. But they have a habit of dragging on into the early hours of the morning, and I know I wouldn’t be safe driving back.

The upside, on the other hand, is that I see my family instead, and I was so tired on Saturday that I ended up with a relatively early night.

Slot #4: Spirit of 77 run by Matt Nixon

I played Father Nick ‘The Priest’ James, a tattooed martial artist, and one of four deniable government black-ops assets. Our mission was to capture a triad leader in the top of an office building, which we accomplished after wading through dozens of mooks and causing untold property damage.

Very enjoyable, although once again I found myself slightly dissatisfied with a PbtA game. I’ve now played three PbtA games (Dungeon World, Monsterhearts, and now Spirit of 77) and in each case I’ve come away thinking that I’m missing something.

I don’t think it’s the system itself, as from what I can see it should be right up my street. Instead, I suspect that in each case it has been my lack of familiarity with that particular variant, and how the GM is running it; each time I’ve played convention one-shots, which probably doesn’t help.

In this case, although I was playing a tattooed martial artist, my reading of the character playbook suggested that he was more effective in battle using his revolver. So that’s what I mostly did. It was only at the end of the game, when I mentioned this, that Matt pointed out how effective my martial arts skills could be. It wasn’t that clear to me from the playbook, and I think if I were playing a second session then I’d be more likely to play the character ‘properly’.

Slot #5: Shadow Hunters run by Declan Feeney

I played Claudia Hawk, a vampire combat medic (and yes, that went about as well as you might expect). I was one of six members of a team of government demon hunters – except that we were the clean-up crew hoping to break into the big time. Our adventure involved encountering the kraken at Hoover Dam, demonic possession and a strange ritual at a roller derby. Shadow Hunters is ‘supposed’ to be a comedy-horror roleplaying game, but Declan played it straight, with full-on angst for some of the team, and it was all the better for that.

I found the Demon Hunters system a bit frustrating. It’s a Fate hack, but in my view it’s not an improvement. It seemed much more complicated, and I spent much of the game wondering why they didn’t just use Fate or Fate Accelerated.

Over for another year

So that was Furnace XI. Overall a huge success – I played in some great games, met some new people, and I didn’t disgrace myself running Fate Accelerated.

Here’s looking forward to next year!

Thursday, 6 October 2016

In Whom We Trust for Call of Cthulhu

In Whom We Trust was the last Call of Cthulhu scenario that I wrote - although to be honest it’s almost system-less and there’s barely any reference to the Cthulhu Mythos.

I originally wrote it for the Call of Cthulhu tournament at Convulsion ’96. Since then it has been played a number of times and suffered a variety of edits.

In Whom We Trust was also used as the RPGA tournament scenario at GenconUK 2001.

Anyway, here are the game files: