Migration - Interlude

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The blog is now showing at https://www.deltapavonis.net/ but I still need to find a way to synchronise the old blog into Blogger. For that I need to get a licence for a Rapidweaver plugin called RapidBlog, which will export and synchronise between the two platforms.

Little steps, but progress forward.

In transition

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Nothing to see here yet, not until I manage to export my existing blog from Rapidweaver.


Books in January and February 2018

I’ve added in the roleplaying games now, as I share this entry on The Tavern forum as well and that place includes RPGs in the ‘books read’ section unlike the late lamented UK Roleplayers site. I won’t be including part read RPGs.

The Journal of Reginald Campbell Thompson (Cthulhu Britannica)

This is a prop for the Cthulhu Britannica: London setting’s Curse of Ninevah campaign. I’d owned the PDF version for a while, and decided to pick up a physical copy when Cubicle 7 sold off their stock when their licence from Chaosium ended. Of course, as I was ordering the book, it went out of stock so I ended up tracing a new copy down on eBay. Hardbound, it’s the same kind of size as a Moleskine and tells the tale of an ill-fated expedition to Nineveh by a team from the British Museum. It isn’t the full story, but it does a grand job of teasing what went wrong. It’s enjoyable, and I think that players will lap it up if they get the chance to find and read it in the game. It’s not essential, but it’s a lovely extra.

Tremulus (Sean Preston)

This was a re-read of a ‘Powered by the Apocalypse’ game which I backed on Kickstarter some time after I picked up Dungeon World. I’m planning to run it at Revelation, a roleplaying convention in Sheffield which will be over by the time that I post this. Tremulus is a game of Lovecraftian horror; it has a very bleak feel and the characters are very much expendable. I like the simplicity of the approach, which combines effectively with a structured playset approach where the scenario is built by asking questions.

The Journal of Neve Selcibuc (Cthulhu Britannica)

This is the second journal made as a prop for the Curse of Nineveh campaign. This time, it is the journal of Neve, a young American woman which has travelled to the UK to spend time with relatives. Along the way, she stumbles into dubious activities which are linked to the Campbell expedition. It’s a teaser; Neve is meant to tell the characters much of this, but it fleshes out the backstory. Again, you don’t get anything near the full story; it’s a hook into the adventure. It is an enjoyable read through.

Madouc (Jack Vance)

The third book in the Lyonesse trilogy, this tale picks up and weaves together happenings from the previous stories. Princess Madouc is one of the key protagonists in the tale, as she grows up and resists the King’s aim of marrying her off for a politically beneficial marriage. Along the way she discovers that her ‘pedigree’ is not what she expected, and that she has Faerie blood… I really enjoyed this trilogy. I wanted to pick it up and read it all again, straight away, which I may do quite soon.

The Sprawl (Hamish Cameron)

I had to re-read the Sprawl because I was running the game at Revelation 2018. I really like the way this one works; chrome slick adaptation of ‘powered by the apocalypse’ principles with the tools to let you run heists and general illegality so they have the feel of a good movie. You do the legwork, and the mission is affected by the outcome. Good stuff. I may have to get a print of the black on white version though as my eyes aren’t quite what they were.

Ironclads (Adrian Tchaikovsky)

Set in decades after Brexit, the UK has become a frontline state in the battle of corporate owned America with the Europeans. The protagonists are an American unit fighting in Scandinavia, normal infantry in a high tech war with robots, biological weapons and Scions. Scions are a form of mech armour, which is effectively invulnerable to infantry, and usually used by board members and owners of companies. The team are sent to find out what happened when a Scion goes missing deep in enemy territory. I really enjoyed this - a cyberpunk war story.

Witches of Lychford (Paul Cornell)

Lychford is a small market town in the south of the UK which also happens to be at a juncture between worlds. A supermarket plans to build a new store, rearranging the geometry of the town’s roads, a decision which will break the protections that have been in place for centuries. An elderly local witch seeks allies to protect reality including the local Vicar and the New Age shop owner. I enjoyed the pace of this, and will be looking at more in the series. Unfortunately, my play experience showed issues with the moves and the balance of the stats.


Books in December 2017

Quite unintentionally, December became a bit of a SF month for me.

Artemis (Andy Weir)

So, the sequel to The Martian, a book (and film) that I enjoyed immensely. I made the mistake of reading the Adam Roberts’ review in The Guardian (https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/nov/15/artemis-andy-weir-review-the-martian) before I started this. My initial impression of that was that it felt like sour grapes about the success of the first, self-published novel. But was he right?

On reflection, I do think that some of the criticisms are justified; the novel - stylistically - is not sophisticated. It is more akin to the old juvenile SF that I loved growing up. The style is the same as The Martian, but this time the info-dumps tend to come in the form of letters between the protagonist and a pen-friend, something that actually meshes very tightly to the plot at the end of the novel. Like The Martian, it carries itself along with the energy that the main character has in overcoming the problems that they are faced with. That in itself harkens back to an older form of SF.

I really enjoyed this book, probably because of the nostalgia for a style that it engenders. Traveller is, after all, my favourite SF-RPG and that is grounded in the same roots. It isn’t as good as The Martian, but is definitely worth a look.

Ready Player One (Ernest Cline)

This one is so grounded in geek culture that sometimes it almost tries too hard. The concept is simple; with climate change and a thirty year recession that shows no sign of going away, the world is a much less pleasant place than it is today. The protagonist - Wade - is a student, growing up in trailer stacks (imagine a 3D trailer park) and attending school via OASIS, an interactive 3D virtual reality that much of the population retreats into to escape a world with far too few opportunities. Wade - or Parzifal, as his avatar is known, is hunting for a huge prize in his spare time; the chance to inherit the fortune of the founder of the company who created OASIS.

The prize is hidden in the form of a quest that brings in a mixture of 70s and 80s tropes; video games, D&D, music and pop culture. As Parsifal progresses, the pace and the risks step up, and he finds that there are those who will take action in the real world to enable them to succeed at the quest. Like video game, the tempo at the end made me read the last third of the book in a single sitting, not wanting to put it down. It isn’t the best book I’ve read recently – I only gave it four stars on Goodreads – but I really enjoyed it. I’m looking forward to seeing what the film version will make of it[1].

Fever Swamp (Luke Gearing)

A short sandbox hexcrawl setting compatible with most OSR rules, set in swampland that can only be realistically traversed by boat. Nicely presented (there is something that reminds me of the old Ladybird books in the small hard cover format) and clearly laid out, this is a setting that could be dropped into other fantasy campaigns quite easily. Even though there are some plot hooks that can be used to draw characters in (the search for a missing - and wanted - scholar, for example) the direct engagement to another campaign is less obvious than the previous Melsonian Arts Council book, the Crypts of Indormancy.

The other area that is a little lacking is on the environmental hazards of the journey through the swamp. I feel that there was an opportunity lost to present some none creature and combat based encounters; however, this may well have been influenced by the ongoing play I have had in a One Ring campaign where travel is much more significant. As it stands, the longer you travel in the swamp, the more likely you are to catch a disease. The drag of the environment itself - coldness, wetness, dirt - is left to the GM to improvise.

That said, this is a competent, well presented, well organised and useful setting. It just doesn't scream "run me" in the way that others like Crypts of Indormancy, Slumbering Ursine Dunes and Hot Springs Islands have.

Persepolis Rising (James S.A. Corey)

The seventh book in the Expanse series (so this would equate to something like series 8 and 9 on TV at the rate that they are converting the books). This book does something radically different; it advances the timeline of the story thirty years further into the future, allowing us to discover the long term consequences of the events in Babylon’s Ashes. Holden and the Rocinante are still around, but some of the old alliances and power structures have realigned, as might have been expected after the cataclysmic events in the preceding books. It’s interesting to see the shifts in motivation that have occurred; everyone is recognisable but they’ve also moved on. The story builds on elements from the previous books, things that have been left there hanging, and the ending, while satisfactory, leaves me wanting more. I enjoyed this a lot, but you don’t carry on reading up to the seventh book of a series if you don’t enjoy it.

[1]: Especially if the D&D module reference makes it into the plot.


Books in November 2017

Reading this month has suffered a little from the Stranger Things effect - catching up on two series of that excellent show has eaten into available time.

Provenance (Ann Leckie)

A new novel set in the same universe as her first trilogy[1], this story takes up the tale of a young woman from a politically influential family who has just spent her life’s savings breaking out someone sentenced to ‘Compassionate Removal’, a form of prison from which no-one every returns. She does this to try and secure her position in the future, but the plan does not go as expected.

I enjoyed the story[2], although it was a little slow to start with. It showcased different parts of the Imperial Radch universe to the Ancillary trilogy. I certainly would like to revisit the universe again.

Grandville: Force Maejure (Bryan Talbot)

This is the (sadly) final instalment of the lusciously illustrated set of graphic novels featuring Inspector LeBrock of the Yard. Set in a world of anthropomorphised animals that parallels our own, LeBrock, a working class detective, the best in the Police forces becomes embroiled in foiling a gangland war. I loved this and read it in one sitting; I heartily recommend the whole series.

Ashes of Berlin (Luke McCain)

Set in 1947, this is the third of the books featuring Reinhardt, a German Police Officer. This story sees him back in Berlin, working in in the Kripo when he gets involved in a double murder investigation which soon escalates to bring in the conflicts between the four powers. Unlike the previous novels (which were set in the Balkans during the war), this has a different feel. Sponsored by the Americans for his job, Reinhardt is seen as both a dinosaur and at odds with the Soviet influenced Police force. However, he’s one of the most experienced detectives and one of the few who follows due process. He has to face his own demons as the investigation starts to shine a light onto the scramble of the various Allies to gain control of personnel, technology and records developed by Nazi Germany[3]. The ending went a different way to I anticipated, and it was excellent. Sadly, just like the Grandville book, this is the last of the series.

Austral (Paul McAuley)

Dedicated to the memory of his wife, Georgina, who died unexpectedly earlier this year, this is Paul McAuley’s latest. Set in Australia once global warming has brought about sea level rise, it tells the story of Austral Morales Ferrado, a genetically edited human, adjusted to survive in low temperatures. Geo-engineering has failed to hold back climate change, suffering from the same short term political will that prevented the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. The ice is retreating, and the Antarctic Peninsula has become an independent Republic.

Austral is a child of the last generation of ecopoets[4], despised and discriminated against because of her ‘husky’ heritage. Orphaned at a young age, she fell into crime, served time but now works as a corrections officer in the labour camps that are used to drive development of the peninsula. An opportunity presents itself and she ends up kidnapping her teenage cousin, the child of a neoconservative politician who refused to acknowledge her side of the family, looking for a ransom and a way out of the Antarctic to somewhere that she won’t face the same discrimination.

I enjoyed this book; it blends an interesting thought exercise on the consequences of adapting to global warming with a kidnapping and deeper history of friction between two branches of a family. It’s not McAuley’s best, but it is different and interesting and held my attention all the way through for a late night finish.

[1]:  The ‘Ancillary’ books.

[2]: I think that the Adam Roberts review (https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/oct/13/provenance-ann-leckie-review-ancillary-justice) of this in the Guardian is a touch unfair, perhaps because of the commercial success that the previous books had.

[3]: Like the ‘Station’ novels, this book is worth reading if you ever want to run the ’Cold City’ RPG.

[4]: Interestingly, my spellcheck tries to change that to ‘cop-outs’. The Ecopoets tried to address global warming by adapting species to build new ecosystems in the face of climate change. They became outlawed and exiled.


Books in October 2017

A fair bit of gaming reading[1] this month has eaten into the available time. That, along with Furnace and family weekends. That said, I’ve passed through the target of 52 books that I set myself on Goodreads this year.

Nightblind (Ragnar Jónasson)

The second of the Dark Iceland sequence. This continues the story of a young Police Officer, recently passed over for promotion in favour of one of his colleagues. All of a sudden, the colleague is shot, and the town comes under the spotlight from the media as firearm related crimes are rare. Against this backdrop, the investigation continues, set against a backdrop of the normalcy of life, and the challenge of relationships. I didn’t enjoy this as much as the first book, but I liked it enough that I will read the third.

The Furthest Station (Ben Aaronovitch)

The latest entry in the PC Grant series, this one is a novella rather than a comic book or a full length novel. Grant is drawn north, following up reports of hauntings on the Underground. His cousin tags along as Nightingale thinks that giving a nearly 16 year old with the potential for magic an internship is a good idea. This was fun, but it never really got going in the way that the novels do. In that respect it was a little disappointing. However, it was nice to touch base with all the familiar characters again.

Blackout (Ragnar Jónasson)

Set after the recent volcanic eruptions in Iceland, this is the third in the series, but second in the timeline. A construction worker building a tunnel to the town that the protagonist works as a police office in is killed, and the story follows the investigations of both the police and a journalist. Dark secrets from the past are revealed before the police have their murderer, but was the act really a cruel one? I will be reading the fourth in the series, but someday I need to find a book with happier stories about Iceland.

The Corporation Wars: Emergence (Ken MacLeod)

The final part of MacLeod’s latest trilogy; the conflict between the AI of the Direction, the AI of the Discorporates, the human minds stored and upload into combat mechanoids and the free Robots (those that have evolved AI naturally) escalates to a conclusion which while satisfying verges on confusing. There are multiple factions, and alliances shift, and the references change from the ‘real’ world to simulations. The story wraps up more quickly and simply than I expected, but it fits well with the preceding plot. I enjoyed this series, but find myself wanting to know more about the backstory.

[1]: The new Paranoia RPG, Swordfish Isles, November Metric, Coriolis and more.


Furnace 2017 (Furnace XII)


The twelfth Furnace has been and gone, and I enjoyed it for its relaxed atmosphere and the catching up with friends. The run up had been more fraught than planned as I didn’t make the progress I’d hoped for on my scenarios, but I managed to complete the badges on the Tuesday night (the main delay being the fact that I’d run out of them!) so had a few nights to tidy things up.

I arrived on Friday night, early on compared to usual, checked in and caught up with a few people in the bar before I nipped out to see Blade Runner 2049 on the IMAX in Sheffield. I don’t have an IMAX close to home so this was a great opportunity. I enjoyed the film, but no spoiler’s here. Got back before last orders and had a few pints and enjoyed the discussion about whether Graham had arranged the Furnace themed beer[1] and had some reminiscences with Ragr about Esoterrorists. It was also great to catch up with the Guv’nor (Satbunny) and his better half, even if he did try to talk me down from my post-film buzz. Went to bed later than planned and it seemed far to early when I met Graham and Elaine for breakfast.

Set up went smoothly except for the lack of an uplighter, and then a quick dash to Morrisons for tape for the Tsarina to put the game rooms up. We had a panic over the tables for the jailhouse but sorted it. Graham did an updated speech (v12); for a bit we had thought we’d have to run a repeat from the one’s on YouTube or even have Elaine or I do it, but fortunately he got away from packing before he moves house for a good part of the con.

Slot 1, I mainly mooched as for once there weren’t many latecomers and so I wasn’t needed to do anything. Had a good natter with George on the Patriot Games stand and time to pick up some goodies. I then did lunch with John Ossoway and Steven Elves, and we caught up.

Slot 2 brought my first game; ‘Ice Cold in Arrendale’. It was a sandbox riff on Frozen, set a year after the film, using the Black Hack derived Spearing authored Heroic Fantasy. Two parties - one from Britannia and one from the Southern Isles - tried to establish why an unnatural winter had swept out across Europe and also to build diplomatic and trading ties, and find an errant younger noble sibling. What they found was a dictatorship, lycanthropes and a hint of cannibalism, all set against a backdrop of foul sorcery. The scenario was a sandbox, and they never left Arrendale town proper, probably wisely avoiding a confrontation with the Snow Queen, Ice Witch, Elsa. It seemed to go down well and I was asked how they could get the book and if I’d share the scenario by some of the players.

Slot 3, I played Julian H’s DCC engined play-test of Dark Trails. This is a Weird Western hack of DCC, moving to much the same territory as Deadlands. We had fun; Jules worked hard, bringing Tequila, a scary tomato and orange brew and lots of bling, and also dealing with a group happy to chew the scenery and relish the interaction. Guy Milner’s “La Pantera” Mexican Luchador was the memory I will work away from. Not to mention, Violet from Chorley, the half-breed Navajo speaker with the dead. The character interactions made the game for me as the scenario was limited in options other than fighting. A great evening.

Caught up with Mr Newt of d101 fame and channelled my inner Han Solo (you’ll need to see the Facebook picture for that to make sense) and also gave Tim Gray a sanity check on print quality for the proof he had to show me. The bar beckoned, but I didn’t want a really late night.

Woke up nice and fresh for Sunday. Had to deal with an issue that Elina kindly helped us with but Elaine found a solution so hopefully it ended well. Arrived feeling a bit rushed into Evil Gaz’s Tales from the Loop Slot 4 game. Set in Sweden in the 1980s, this was great. I loved the co-creation with characters and it really nails that Super-8 and 80s kids movie vibe[2]. The system mechanic is very swingy, but the various rules to re-roll, push or use your pride make it feel great. It encouraged us to do all the crazy things kids do in films from that genre. This was a lighter touch Gaz than I’ve seen before and he absolutely nailed it. Great scenario, great ref and great players. I went away from this with a smile and a feel-good factor.

I also went away understanding the engine used in the game better, which was good because next up was my Slot 5 Coriolis game, which is from the same family. But before that I had raffle tickets to fold, and my back-room status on the committee to be confirmed. I spent thirty minutes trying to keep Coriolis in the front of my head by re-reading my notes.

I was fully pre-booked, and a little nervous. I broke one of my cardinal rules here and took out a system that I have never run before with a home-brew scenario. If you’re in the know, you’ll be aware that Coriolis is an Arabian themed SF game, full of competing factions, missions, mysteries and more. Typically, characters are like a Traveller crew, or the Firefly crew, a mixture of backgrounds and beliefs. Unlike Tales from the Loop, there is far less co-creation. I cheated and used the pre-generated characters from the QuickStart.

We departed for Coriolis Station where the characters worked as cut outs in a negotiation, discovered an important artefact and then tried to find out where it came from. This involved a trip with two portal jumps to a system under interdiction by the Zenithian forces. The players found the source of the artefact, and showed great caution in their approach. We had no combat, lots of sneaking and manipulation, and I was amused (rather than horrified) when Declan F spotted part of the denouement just before it happened. Those early episodes of Blakes 7 obviously stuck with my subconscious. Hat tip to Remy for the support while GMing, and I hope I met Matt N’s challenge to entertain him for his birthday. I like Coriolis, I just wish that it was better presented to quickly reference.

And then it was over. People had drifted away over the last few hours, and I was the last of the committee to leave. A few people lingered on; I had a quick natter with the Patriot crew, but the M1/A1 beckoned with the road home to the North.

On reflection, both scenarios I wrote had far more material than the time we had allowed for, so needed some tweaks to ensure a climax. I hope that worked. I was impressed by the willingness of the players to go for it with the characters they were presented with. I was, once again, blown away by the effort put in by the GMs and others who helped out. Thank you.

Onwards towards Revelation and the North Star.

Furnace will return.[3]


[1] The answer is ‘kind of’.
[2] I’m not going to say Stranger Things, The Goonies, or ET here as I’m only part way through the former and have only watched bits of the latter two! Yeah, that’s my geek cred gone.
[3] And we will announce the new date soon.


Stepping off the Upgrade Cycle

Stepping off the upgrade cycle

I love technology, and I’ve had a long love of Apple products. My computer through university (and this was bought at the time that 286 Intel processors were state of the art) was an Atari ST, whose entire operating system (TOS) mimicked the graphic user interface of Apple’s System 7. I only had an ST because the price of Apple devices was somewhat eye-wincing.

When I graduated, I managed to convince the financial director in the first company I worked for to include Apple computers in the company interest-free computer loan scheme and soon after I had my very first computer, an Apple PowerBook 190cs, rocking a 68040 processor and a gorgeous keyboard and style. 3 years later, I had a desktop to match it - a Performa 6400 mini-tower. I’ve loved these devices and carried out up the cycle, upgrading every 3 to 4 years.

iOS came along, and initially I ignored it as there was no way that I was going to get a contract with O2, and my first device was an iPhone 3GS. From then on, I was on the two year cycle; 4S, 5S, 6S.

Today I stepped off that cycle. Unlike the older iPhones, the 6S doesn’t feel sluggish. This reflects on Apple’s superb silicon chip design. I looked at the iPhone 8 (which arguably could have been the 7S) but decided that I couldn’t justify the contract costs (nearly £60 per month if you pay through the contract for the device). I could get an iPhone 7 for around the price of my existing contract, but that isn’t that different to my 6S. Or I could go SIM only and triple my data allowance for £14. I took the 12 month SIM-only.

The money saved will go towards replacing the iMac that died last year, or perhaps the iPad update I’m hankering after. I’m not leaving Apple or losing my passion, but the 20% hit on the pound to dollar thanks to the Brexit vote hurts and affects these decisions…


Books in September 2017

Only two books this month but they were ace.

Rotherweird (Andrew Caldecott)

I think that this is best described as urban fantasy. The story revolves around the town of Rotherweird, isolated from the rest of the UK since the reign of Queen Elizabeth, Gloriana. The story starts with a teacher being hired to teach modern history to the children at the school, discovering that he is not allowed to delve into or explore or even talk about the past of the town due to the ‘History Regulations’, the breach of which caused the dismissal of his predecessor. The first half of the book is slow[1], but as the plot gets going it becomes more and more entertaining.

A Legacy of Spies (John le Carré)

My views on this are not unbiased. I have loved le Carré’s writing since my teenage years, and this story pulls together threads from the various novels which involve George Smiley. If you haven’t watched or read ‘The Spy who Came in from the Cold’, or ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’, don’t bother reading this book. Instead, settle back and watch Richard Burton’s masterful performance in the former (on Netflix at the moment) and Garry Oldman’s in the recent film of the latter. Or watch the Alec Guinness BBC TV series. Or listen to the BBC Radio Smiley Adaptations. Or even, as this is a thread on books read, read the books.

That said; the plot is a holding to account of the actions of the Circus from a modern day perspective. Peter Guillam is called back to the UK from retirement in France[2] to have his passport taken from him and find that SIS is facing legal action from relatives of two people killed on an operation at the Berlin Wall. Peter Guillam is the only person involved that they have tracked down; Smiley’s location is unknown.

The character elements of this story are excellent, but don’t expect a high octane plot. This is an exploration of past deeds and the morality of the actions taken and their consequences. Along the way other characters from the past emerge as the story moves towards George Smiley - once more - stepping out of the shadows. Loved this. Part of it is revisiting old ground and friends from a different perspective, and part of it is the joy of le Carré’s prose. He’s said that this is the last book that will include Smiley, but he’s working on the next. I wish him a long and health life so I can continue to be enthralled with his work.

[1]: Thankful not as hard going as Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell
[2]: Those gamers who played the Dracula Dossier with me will know why this make me smile.


Books in August 2017


Marina (Carlos Ruiz Záfon)

A bittersweet story of death, romance and hope set against a backdrop of lost parts of Barcelona and the darkness of the human spirit. Oscar Drain, the protagonist, leaves childhood behind as he falls in love with Marina. CRZ says that this - the last of his young adult novels - was a big influence on his Barcelona quartet and it shows. Sadly, that's the last of his back catalogue that is available and I've read the rest. I just need to wait patiently for the fourth book in the quartet to be translated into English.

The Book Thief (Marcus Zusak)

I found myself very conflicted about this book by the time I completed it. It tells the tale of a young German girl fostered just before the Second World War and her developing relationship with books, all through the eyes of the narrator, Death. At times ham-fisted in its approach and style, and with a protagonist who feels like a cypher, there was part of me which didn't like the book at all. At the same time, there was something about the story that drew me on, that made me want to know what happened next, and showed beautiful little vignettes of humanity. On reflection, I don't think that I'll be looking for more from this author.

The Delerium Brief (Charles Stross)

Now this was like a breath of fresh air having read The Book Thief. The plot grabs you, sits you in the car seat and then puts the pedal to the floor. Of course, it is the 8th book in an ongoing series so it does help that I've read its predecessors and know the characters and set up. I really enjoyed the twists and turns with this and I'm glad that the next part has been brought forward to next year.