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Blog Posts from June 2020 (35)

Announcing Mists of Time

30 Jun, 2020


Mists of Time houses reviews from those long ago days before James Nicoll Reviews existed, from the Millennial Reviews (which Martin Wisse was kind enough to host for … how can it be twenty years?), to Lost Voices to World Builders to the more recent Haikasoru Reviews.

No attempt to edit these relics of the ancient past will be made, aside from running them through the spell checker evidence suggests they never saw when I first posted them. Enjoy! 

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Books Received, June 20 — 26

27 Jun, 2020

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A sweeping historical novel about a dancehall girl and an orphan boy whose fates entangle over an old Chinese superstition about men who turn into tigers.Quick-witted, ambitious Ji Lin is stuck as an apprentice dressmaker, moonlighting as a dancehall girl to help pay off her mother’s Mahjong debts. But when one of her dance partners accidentally leaves behind a gruesome souvenir, Ji Lin may finally get the adventure she has been longing for.Eleven-year-old houseboy Ren is also on a mission, racing to fulfill his former master’s dying wish: that Ren find the man’s finger, lost years ago in an accident, and bury it with his body. Ren has 49 days to do so, or his master’s soul will wander the earth forever.As the days tick relentlessly by, a series of unexplained deaths wracks the district, along with whispers of men who turn into tigers. Ji Lin and Ren’s increasingly dangerous paths crisscross through lush plantations, hospital storage rooms, and ghostly dreamscapes.Yangsze Choo’s The Night Tiger pulls us into a world of servants and masters, age-old superstition and modern idealism, sibling rivalry and forbidden love. But anchoring this dazzling, propulsive novel is the intimate coming of age of a child and a young woman, each searching for their place in a society that would rather they stay invisible. 

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Books Received, June 13 ‑June 19

20 Jun, 2020


A riveting story of discovery, forbidden romance and idealism against all odds, set in a fantasy world inspired in part by Indian history and myth. For fans of Sabaa Tahir and Tomi Adeyemi.Gul has spent her life running. She has a star-shaped birthmark on her arm, and in the kingdom of Ambar, girls with such birthmarks have been disappearing for years. Gul’s mark is what caused her parents’ murder at the hand of King Lohar’s ruthless soldiers and forced her into hiding to protect her own life. So when a group of rebel women called the Sisters of the Golden Lotus rescue her, take her in, and train her in warrior magic, Gul wants only one thing: revenge. Cavas lives in the tenements, and he’s just about ready to sign his life over to the king’s army. His father is terminally ill, and Cavas will do anything to save him. But sparks fly when he meets a mysterious girl — Gul — in the capital’s bazaar, and as the chemistry between them undeniably grows, he becomes entangled in a mission of vengeance — and discovers a magic he never expected to find. Dangerous circumstances have brought Gul and Cavas together at the king’s domain in Ambar Fort … a world with secrets deadlier than their own. Exploring identity, class struggles, and high-stakes romance, Hunted by the Sky is a gripping adventure set in a world inspired by medieval India. 

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RPG Moments of Awesome 10: the resurrection of Chaosium’s Runequest

19 Jun, 2020


Let’s call the history of Runequest from the Avalon Hill deal to the early 21st century troubled”. Its history after 2003ish was…convoluted seems diplomatic enough, but at least there were versions of Runequest available, albeit not from Chaosium itself. I think there have been seven, maybe eight, editions of the game over the decades. Annoyingly the companies don’t seem to have used a consistent numbering system.

As for Chaosium itself, it underwent what was likely an excessively interesting process in which it essentially broke into component companies, and then re-accreted back into a unified body1. In 2018, Chaosium finally produced a new, in-house edition of their venerable RPG. Huzzah!

I’ve owned a copy since 2018 and at some point I really need to read it.

1: I would draw a parallel with a gas giant moon thought to have been disrupted by an impact, then reformed, but I can’t recall which moon that was.

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RPG Moments of Awesome 9: Runequest’s Cults

18 Jun, 2020


In general, early RPGs tended to treat gods as a convenient source of mojo for clerics (or as something for high level player characters to fight). There was no particular need for non-clerical characters to claim affiliation with any particular deity.

Runequest in contrast used religious affiliation to bind characters into particular social networks. Which god a character followed defined to a fair degree where they fit into society, who they got along with and who they did not, and provided them with cult-appropriate training in skills and magic. A character with no cult affiliation was at considerable disadvantage. This was part of the general pattern in Runequest for characters to exist in a specific context, rather than springing up out of nowhere like little murder hobo mushrooms.

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RPG Moments of Awesome 8: The Traveller Map

17 Jun, 2020


Traveller is 43 years old. Over the decades, GDW, its successors, and its licensees have produced a metric fuckton of worlds, thousands upon thousands of strings of numbers denoting the characteristics of thousands of worlds. 

Traditionally, these were presented to gamers in the form of printed matter. We live in the modern world, however, where personal computers light enough to be moved by four burly men are inexpensive enough to be owned by landed gentry, where information may be conveyed across great distances at speeds of 1200 Baud or more. This presents an opportunity.

Joshua Bell’s Traveller Map is a searchable, scalable map providing decades of world data in convenient online form.

To quote

The Official Traveller Universe (OTU) is the primary setting for various editions of the Traveller game, controlled by Far Future Enterprises (FFE). This is the universe described by publications from GDW, FFE and Mongoose Publishing, and by past licensees such as Digest Group, FASA, Imperium Games and others, The setting includes the Third Imperium, Zhodani Consulate and Solomani Confederation, alien species such as the Aslan, K’kree, Vargr, Hivers and Droyne, and a history from the Ancients through the New Era. 
Under the FFE Fair Use Policy, the Traveller Map presents an interactive view into the OTU, making use of official data approved and provided by FFE — as well as apocryphal and unofficial data.

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RPG Moments of Awesome 7: SPI’s Universe’s Interstellar Display

16 Jun, 2020


SPI’s Universe was, as previously mentioned, a foray into science fiction roleplaying. Included in the box, the Interstellar Display, a poster-sized, astronomically accurate (by 1980s standards) map depicting all known stars within 30 light-years of Earth. Unlike Traveller’s star maps, the Interstellar Display took into account that space is three-dimensional, not a paper-map-friendly two dimensions. It was very eye-catching and it makes me sad nobody seems to have ever take a high-resolution scan of the whole thing. The best I have found is this scan of the box set at Wayne’s Books.

Two-dimensional displays of three-dimensional volumes quickly get cumbersome as the volume increases and the number of objects within that volume soars. 30 light years is a reasonable compromise between having enough star systems to be interesting and not having so many as to be unreadably busy. GDW’s 2300 AD opted for 50 light years, encompassing about five times the volume, and their map was pretty crowded.

The Universe map is long out of print but happily Atomic Rockets is happy to fulfill your star map needs. 

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RPG Moments of Awesome 6: M‑Space’s Conflict Pools

15 Jun, 2020


Clarence Redd’s 2016 M‑Space is an SF table-top role-playing game. It uses the D100-derived Mythras Imperative game engine, which is to say it is a close relative of RPGs like Runequest , Call of Cthulhu , and Future World.

M‑Space uses conflict pools. They are fairly abstract tools to resolved extended conflicts between two or more people. These can be used to determine the outcome of any on-going conflict. These need not be restricted to physical combat. The detail that caught my eye was players are not restricted to one conflict at a time. To quote:

Using Multiple Conflict Pools
In some situations, you may want to use two separate pool values. Often it will be the main Conflict Pool, plus a pool for physical injuries.
Example: At a court duel, with a small gathering of spectators, two pools are used: One for physical injuries and one for social damage. While lightsabers dazzle, the opponents take turns insulting each other. One person may win the physical battle, but the rival can win the hearts of the crowd – opening up a lot of interesting situations in the scenarios to follow.

I don’t know if M‑Space style pools or the idea of running parallel conflicts involving unrelated skillsets are original to M‑Space but that’s where I first encountered them. The idea described above intrigued me quite a bit, which is rarer now than it was when I began role-playing. 

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RPG Moments of Awesome 5: Jody Lee’s cover for Runequest, Third Edition

14 Jun, 2020


Unable to purchase Chaosium’s RuneQuest outright, Avalon Hill instead licensed rights to publish a new edition of the game. Unfortunately, for various reasons the hoped for sales synergy between Chaosium’s established product and Avalon Hill’s market presence failed to pan out. Nevertheless, nobody could deny Jody Lee’s art for the Deluxe Runequest box was exquisite looking. 

Jody Lee delivered arguably the best RPG cover of the era, using as her models Kate Elliott and Elliott’s husband. 

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RPG Moments of Awesome 4: Champions

13 Jun, 2020


George MacDonald and Steve Peterson’s 1981 Champions is Hero Games’ superhero rpg. I think I first encountered it with the second edition, which means I missed the heady days when one could put a multipower into an elemental control. I assure you that makes sense. I played Champions avidly across third, fourth, and fifth editions, ultimately moving on once its increasing complexity exceeded my capacity to keep the rules straight.

The aspect of Champions that endeared it to me wasn’t the moral certainty it offered that every possible problem can be solved with the right application of skin-tight garish clothes, bare fists, and laser vision, although that is comforting. Champions was the first system I encountered where character generation was fully points based, entirely under the player’s control. The only thing between player and a perfect character was flawless comprehension of the rules and an ability to convince the game master that the clearly abusive interpretation of the mechanics one proposed was reasonable. Although I am in no sense a control freak, I loath being in any was dependent on factors that are imponderable, unpredictable. random, and/or outside my command. The ability to craft characters precisely offered Champions and the Hero Games rules derived from it played into my preferences. 

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