Author Archive for

21
Nov
09

recap: recession-proof gaming and useful tools

C’mon – you knew this would happen sometime… so just imagine Don La Fontaine doing this voiceover!
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First there was recession-proof gaming.  Then there was the sequel.  The field got opened up with no money, no time, no problem!  Then proof that the internet provides.  The search for stuff introduced pocketmods, graphic tools and yet more generators.  Then the discovery of undiscovered toys that could save you time.

Yet it’s not just about the financiapocalypse.  It’s also about making your life as games master easier – whether you have a game in sixty minutes, need some steampunk or use kanban to help you develop characters.  Add useful web 2.0 tools, browser tricks and TiddlyWiki, mindmapping and writing tools and you have an arsenal to draw on when creating a game. With resources like these, it’s getting easier to make the game you want to play.

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13
Nov
09

inns and taverns: the summer swan

The Summer Swan is a narrow boat that works the river, providing ale and wine to the thirsty while avoiding many of the taxes most innkeeps pay. When it moors, a marquee and rough benches are set up and people are invited to sup the ale that is traded and brewed aboard.  On fair weather days, the marquee is sometimes dispensed with and the ale flows freely to farmhands and fishermen alike.

This has led to some antagonism with local inns, lords and sheriffs but this is smoothed over by trading small kegs of high-quality and potent pale ale and when it’s needed, some coin.  Word of the Summer Swan’s destinations travel swiftly with travellers and ne’er-do-wells, it is a welcome haven for tinkers, journeymen, gypsies, minstrels and runaways and these folk watch out for the boat and it’s captain.

The captain and landlord is a slight, wiry man of indeterminate age and gleaming eyes.  He plays chess and fiddle exceptionally well and his genial manner barely hides a tireless enthusiasm for life, high tolerance for his own wares and low tolerance for boredom.  He keeps three calico cats that only he can tell apart and these fuss over anyone except the disagreeable, the diseased and those with an air of wrongness about them.

In the stern of the boat is a remarkably lifelike wooden figurehead of a barmaid; buxom, blonde-haired and clad in brown.  The captain claims it is his wife and will jokingly tell her to stop nagging to the amusement of his customers.  On the rare times he gets drunk (late at night during certain festivals), he talks to the figurehead and even hugs it, weeping softly as if lost to something or someone.

The pale ale he brews is light, refreshing and strong.  He keeps small barrels of dark stout and heather ale as well as brown bottles of fiery whiskey, apple brandy, elderflower wine and damson spirit.  He doesn’t serve food, scarcely having enough to feed himself and his friends.  “You want food, you bring it!” is often laughingly shouted by those in the know at those the worse for wear by drinking on an empty stomach.

The Summer Swan will always move on after seven days anywhere, even with ideal conditions for trade and large crowds of customers.  Travellers and merchants are aware of the boat’s passage and sometimes form spontaneous free markets to the consternation of nearby towns.  The question is not if the captain is a smuggler, the question is of what.  Yet until now, nobody has found anything that wasn’t meant to be there…

05
Nov
09

pretender to the throne

Regaining my armour is the beginning.  My banner shall fly anew and our fortunes will be restored. What was sundered can be made whole and our throne is within reach again.
— Simkin Lanternon, exile and pretender to the throne.

Born of a lampmaker and a disgraced lady-in-waiting Simkin Lanternon grew up in a land where noble blood assured power.  His ambition was pricked and he turned to deception.  From this Simkin learned the seeming of nobility with the blessing of his embittered mother and ambitious friends looking for a fast path to power and court.  His intellect and semblance to a former king set him on a collision course with the nobles of his homeland who spurned this newcomer and his grasping friends.

The king was newly crowned, resented by his subjects for heavy taxation and hated abroad for overthrowing the former monarch, a practice the foreign kings hoped to quash.  Lanternon travelled to their courts as a knight errant who decried the tyranny afflicting his homeland.  Nobles in exile confirmed his lineage with divinations (Simkin was a bastard of the former king’s uncle) and began to groom him for greater things while Simkin bought legitimacy with his treason and flourished as he toured.

A certain king had come to possess a demon-ridden helmet that whispered dark thoughts to it’s wearer, he presented it in a set of armour for Simkin. He knew Simkin would fail as he was skilled in tourney but not battle. Giving away the helmet removed a burden and left a trap for Simkin’s slayer. Mnemesyx and Simkin fed off the other’s incitations and the growing cruelty in Simkin was heralded as ‘the will to conquer’ by those courts who sheltered him and his exiled supporters.

Convinced he was ready, the exiles hired mercenaries and a seasoned captain eager for war. Simkin would lead a popular revolt and usurp the usurper.  When Simkin landed, he was joined by friends and disaffected nobles.  Mnemesyx saw it’s chance and rallied the forces.  The mercenaries took a coastal town loyal to the king and ravaged it then sailed up the coast to a new attack. This attack failed as Simkin resisted Mnemesyx’s influence and the resulting bad tactical decisions allowed the enemy to regroup.

Changing plan, Simkin chose to attack a town further inland at the behest of Mnemesyx. After three days of fighting, the town fell yet the conquerors were besieged as the king’s general came with a greater force who slaughtered the mercenaries and punished the treasonous.  Simkin was captured alive by a knight errant who claimed his armour as a prize and ransomed Simkin to the exiles.  The exiles plot with Simkin again for the pretender is now a scheming demagogue. Mnemesyx has taught him well.

Simkin plots to steal the armour and helm from the now-titled knight who took and keeps them as trophies, being ignorant of the demon within.  He presents himself as the unfortunate victim of a melee in which he was robbed yet ‘enemies at court’ would see him dead were he to return home to his friends.  Once the armour is restored, he will recommence his plans for usurping the king.  This time he intends to give Mnemesyx full rein in his ambitions. Adventurers may find themselves on either side of this plot.

This post is inspired by Mnemesyx, The Twice Fallen  by Nevermet Press  and Perkin Warbeck.

04
Nov
09

exclusive! review: heroes or villains? miniature pack

Review: Heroes or Villains? pack by 6d6Fireball Miniatures.
Disclaimer:
These miniatures were provided by 6d6Fireball for review purposes.  Fame & Fortune is an affiliate of 6d6Fireball.com (check the Affiliates box under the RPG Bloggers Network button for details).
Metric:
  Have to go with fireballs.  One bad, five awesome.

Metal miniatures are a binary proposition – either a must-have or you pick them up on the fly while waiting for your FLGS to re-order Pathfinder.  Recent editions of D&D encourage using miniatures in tactical play and even the hoariest grognard has a small collection gleaned over years of play.  Those looking for a motley band of all-male adventuring types may get their itch scratched here. So, going from left to right…

First Corvell, an aspiring wizard with a goatee beard and funny hat in wide sleeved doublet and breeches.  He raises a hand in some kind of invocation while clutching a scroll.  Detail is good with a spell-book shaped satchel and a glyph on his upraised hand.  Looks like he’s stepped out of Legends of the Seeker.

Next, Drax the Chain (human fighter in chain with a spiked chain) is attacking his enemy.  As many pre-gen human fighters in WotC 3.xE supplements either uses a bastard sword or spiked chain, DMs get replayability and the level of detail is good, from the closed helm to the sagging backpack and belt pouches.

Then Kiris, Mightiest of Gnomes is clad in a brigandine jack, open-faced helm and wielding an axe in two hands.  Tall for a gnome, it shows a willowy build that differentiates him from bulky dwarves but still shows a warrior capable of hacking kobolds and goblins down.  That axe still means business though and this figure would work well in any fantasy setting.

Finally, Celebhith, a bearded ranger-type in chain with detachable sprue for his arms and longsword – he’s described as a half-elf but is as tall as either of the humans here.  The slung sword and bow over his back indicate he’s ready for both distance and close-up fighting. Some assembly is needed – this figure can be customised with a little care and epoxy.. 

Summary: 4 fireballs.
The figures are comparable quality to Ral Partha and beg to be painted.  There was some minor and easily removed (by fingernail) flash on the legs of Drax and Celebhith.  The figures are good value and as a pack of four, would make a good bundle of henchmen or NPCs. You can buy them individually if you like but the pack is good value and offers variety.

Bonus Discount Code – £3.00 off one order per person at 6d6Fireball Miniatures.  Type in satyre091.

01
Nov
09

story: don juan tenorio

A play by Jose Zorilla performed in Spain on All Saint’s Day for over 100 years, the story provides buckets of inspiration, be it the nature of the bets taken, deceiving someone, statues coming to life, a feast with an unexpected stone guest ending in a duel or a desperate, last minute plea for redemption from a rake.  This is a romanticised version of the play ‘The Trickster of Seville and the Stone Guest’ by de Molina, whose original plot was a moralist critique of Spanish honour as a veneer for sin which is a retelling of the legend of Don Juan or his equally notorious Italian equivalent, Don Giovanni.

A stranger enters a crowded Seville inn, wanting to learn about the exploits of a gentleman who his daughter will marry.  The landlord reveals that the gentleman and his companion will arrive shortly.  Devilish rakes Don Juan and Don Luis enter, to learn who won their bet of who seduced more women and killed more men in that year. Don Juan wins on both counts.  As Don Luis fumes, the crowd ask Don Juan if he ever fears the consequences.  Don Juan replies he only thinks of the present.  Don Luis reveals Don Juan slept with women of every social standing save two, a novice about to take holy vows and a woman engaged to be married. Coincidently, both are currently engaged to be married, Don Luis to Dona Ana and Don Juan to Dona Ines. 

Luis makes a rash wager that Don Juan will not manage to seduce a woman of either kind and Juan accepts, says he will do this in a week and that Dona Ana will be the engaged woman!  Now the stranger is revealed as Don Gonzalo, the father of Dona Ines.  He declares Don Juan will never see her again and cancels the wedding.  Don Juan boasts Ines will be his, given willingly or taken by force.  With Ines taking vows, the stage is truly set.  By chance, personality, trickery and bribery, Juan manages both the seduction of Ana and abduction of Ines to his manor in one night.

He does not seduce Ines, instead both tenderly profess their love for each other.  Juan has found someone he can truly love rather than just seduce.  Yet Don Luis arrives, outraged Juan impersonated him in his seduction of Ana.  Then Don Gonzalo arrives with the town guard to accuse Juan of kidnapping and seducing Ines.  Surprisingly Don Juan pleads for the hand of Ines on his knees.  Gonzalo and Luis mock his cowardice and demand his life which pushes Juan to declare having been rejected as a good person, he will continue as the devil.  He shoots Don Gonzalo, stabs Don Luis and abandons the fatherless Dona Ines to flee the country.

Five years pass and Don Juan returns, pardoned for his crimes.  Yet he returns to find his manor torn down and a cemetary for his victims in it’s place.  Juan’s father, Don Diego Tenorio disowned his son and built the cemetary for Juan’s victims with his inheritance.  Lifelike statues of Gonzalo, Luis and Ines are present and the sculptor reveals Ines died of sorrow soon after she was abandoned before leaving.   Juan expresses regret and prays to Ines for forgiveness.  Her statue comes to life and reveals that Juan has a day to live, she has made a deal with God to offer her soul on behalf of Juan’s.  God has declared both will be bound together so Juan must choose for both – salvation or damnation.

At this point, two of Juan’s friends Avellaneda and Centellas appear.  Juan convinces himself Ana hasn’t just spoken to him and in a fit of bravado heretically invites Gonzalo’s statue to dine with them this eve.  During the meal, Juan blasphemes against the dead and Heaven until Gonzalo’s statue walks in.  His friends pass out from fright and Gonzalo’s statue intones Juan’s time is running out before departing.  Avellaneda and Centellas wake up and Juan accuses them of a practical joke to mock him.  They accuse him of drugging their wine to mock them.  A duel ensues.

Now Juan is led to the graveyard by Gonzalo’s ghost.  There Gonzalo’s tomb opens and an almost empty hourglass is revealed.  Gonzalo explains this is Juan’s life, almost ended as Centellas killed Juan in the duel and he takes Juan’s arm, ready to lead him to hell.  Juan cries out, denying he is dead and reaching to heaven for mercy.  Ines appears and redeems him, both then go to heaven together.

31
Oct
09

dracula the un-dead

Nottingham, October 31st 2009.

It is with heavy heart and light hand that I lay down this novel and attempt to compose my thoughts on this latest story of the great Un-dead, Dracula.  Knowing the precious hours spent reading cannot return fills me with a sense of longing for innocence.  Yet what has been read cannot be unread.  What permits me to set this book aside lightly, rather than hurling it with great force as Dorothy Parker suggests is that it has not been penned by Dan Brown.  That I fear would be a burden beyond endurance but it perhaps is an expectation of fidelity and pedigree that make this horror seem less than it is.

Stoker’s great-grandnephew Dacre has with the help of Ian Holt, elucidated events twenty-five years after in what is described as the ‘official’ sequel to the novel and the return of vampires to London.  Yet there is no respect for those characters, the literary style that Bram Stoker used or geography  (Carfax Abbey being in Purfleet, near London not Whitby).  It reads like a modern re-imagining with vampires with entirely black eyes who have forgotten their mesmering stares, whose mouths fill with fangs and who become reptilian brutes in the mode of the movie Van Helsing.

The essential nobility of the survivors is destroyed by ensnaring them in vices and despair.  Almost nothing of the original people survives, fast friendships eroded and frayed, familial and marital bonds now bitter burdens resentfully born by all involved.  Mina Harker is transformed from the resolute muse of her band to vacillating, guilt-ridden ingenue.  Jonathan Harker is a controlling sot trying to numb Mina’s love for Dracula with visits to prostitutes, Arthur Holmwood is bitter and loveless with a death wish and Van Helsing palsied and helpless while posturing before Dracula’s portrait.  Surely they deserve better.

And it appears talent skips a generation.  Quincey Harker has grown into a wilful trust fund baby obsessed with acting rather than inheriting a lawyer’s practice and resentful of family secrets.  Bram Stoker himself plays a part in this book and historical figures take a bow as do with knowing nods to actors who have played Dracula in cameo.  The pall cast by Jack the Ripper offers red herring relief from the bloody massacre of those who killed Dracula.  Or did they?  For it appears a vampire is stalking the night and killing again.

Inevitable comparisons, particularly to Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula and Fred Saberhagen’s Dracula series will be made and I fear this book does not come out favourably.  Another sequel seems certain and a movie treatment almost inevitable.  My heart is filled with foreboding as a result, the book indeed elaborates on the backstory of characters yet falls victim to tropes pervading modern horror including a token lesbian scene and casual violence.  It attempts to explain the inexplicable, renders consistent the mystery that hangs around the undead and in doing so fails to honour the mythos of the original.

Those who fancy a vampire story are welcome to try Dracula The Un-Dead – it achieves it’s goals with some finesse. If you’re expecting a story faithful to the original then be tolerant of the creative liberties taken herein. For a book that prides itself on provenance and pedigree, it is ironic the story takes a divergent approach from the original.  The story is good and well-constructed using modern sensibilities and if it were not touting itself as an official sequel would stand on it’s merits.  Yet the book makes a big play of it’s provenance and it’s lack of faithfulness to the original is jarring.

Score: Three stakes (out of five).  Some nice interplay between characters but while the homework is done in some areas, it surprisingly lacks in others and the heroes of the first tale are almost beyond recognition.

30
Oct
09

inns and taverns: the zaros road taverna

At the foot of the Zaros hills, the Zaros Road is known for it’s sinister nature and as harvest shadows lengthen, the gods are placated for bright spring and gentle winter.  These sacrifices are not always heeded and the gods have seen fit to shelter brigands and worse in the hills.  As a result, the Zaros Road Taverna was built over a freshwater spring within reach of the town and used as a waystation by merchants and travellers. 

This taverna and it’s yard is enclosed within a whitewashed stone wall and painted gate.  Close to the taverna is an extensive frame holding up a trellis laden with vines and a creeping white rose at each post.  The result is a shelter thick with vines and in summer, grapes and roses.  A pair of large yet intelligent warhounds owned by the landlord lie here, keep vigil over the yard and occasionally beg food from the gullible and easily scared.

The taverna itself is a 40′ square two-storey structure made of quarried stone and geometric tiles laid out in patterns around the bar and hexagonal hearth burning pine cones and birch or pinewood.  A collection of wooden benches and tables can hold up to forty people, typically there are fifty people jostling for space and additional service; with up to another six musicians, entertainers and dancing girls working them.

The walls are decorated with icons of local gods and artifacts of hunting and shepherding.  There are eight  cell-like rooms upstairs behind the bar which command a high price – most locals sleep in the courtyard anytime but winter or curl up in the corners.  Occasionally a merchant will visit, risking the road for profit, and complain to the grim amusement of the landlord who asks if they want to camp outside.  They never do so.

The landlord is a grizzled former archer who runs his place like a barracks, his staff and family are fiercely loyal despite his appalling behaviour to them.  The locals respect him, his skill has kept them safe from the brigands and his taverna is pleasant and often drink small beer or wine (a little rough about the edges) while enjoying the skill of the cook, whose craft is considerable. 

The locals enjoy roasted goat and mutton, freshwater mussels boiled in butter and rich lamb stew packed with garlic and olives with occasional boar and blood sausages.  The prices are reasonable.  Shepherds who live near the taverna may offer one of their flock for a tab reckoned by the landlord.  The locals are a friendly bunch yet mentioning what is in the hills makes them taciturn and they suggest taking the road during the day.

The taverna is cooled by an underground cistern where ale and wine are kept.  This cistern collects water from the fresh spring, it’s design allows the water to flow away while giving enough to keep the taverna well stocked.  Food is kept in an adjacent cellar – in theory, the taverna could last for a week if it ever came under siege from whatever lives in the hills.

The stables are made of the same whitewashed stone as the wall and support up to eight horses.  Two of the stalls are permanently taken – one with the landlord’s own horse, the other holds a horse for local messengers to use.  The local town council willingly waive the price of the stables and feed from their local taxes since the taverna is a waystation and often shelters those who cannot return to the town before nightfall.