North Sea Hijack (aka 'ffolkes')

aka "ffolkes"

I'm not sure why this film from 1980 sprang to mind last weekend, but it obviously made an impression on me when I saw it on TV in my early teens. I couldn't even remember the name, just that it was set in the North Sea and had Roger Moore in it. Google (or rather DuckDuckGo) was my friend. "North Sea Hijack" it was. Or "ffolkes", if you were in the US.

It's a reasonably simple thriller at heart; a North Sea supply ship is hijacked, and an oil production rig and drilling rig (whose majority shareholder is the UK government) are held to ransom. The Prime Minister - a Margaret Thatcher clone - and ministers decide that the only way forward is to engage ffolkes, a wealthy eccentric specialist retained by Lloyds of London to help defeat the hijackers. With less than 24 hours to go, the film is an enjoyable action romp as plans are made and changed as circumstances shift. Roger Moore is joined by James Mason and Anthony Perkins who seem to be enjoying themselves.

The one part of the film that hasn't aged well is Roger Moore's character's misogyny. This was a deliberate part of the plot in both the book and the film, and his character has a background story that explains why. The narrative for the film itself makes it clear that he's meant to be a dinosaur, and has some knowing looks between characters when he's at his worst, but it definitely jars. I don't think that it would have been written like this today but, to its credit, the film and character's responses to ffolkes are very clear that the attitude shown is wrong.

Nathan watched it and enjoyed it; the underwater sequences and the characters facing off were his favourites.

10 March 2019


Captain Marvel (Spoiler free)


We had a family outing yesterday to see Captain Marvel at the Vue in York, despite all the hate that certain sides of the internet have been spreading because it has a strong - and vocal - female lead. We all really enjoyed the film[1]. For me, it wasn't the best Marvel Cinematic Universe film, but it was right there at the top. I'd put Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.1, Black Panther and Captain America: The Winter Soldier above it, but it was really close.

The film has interesting character development, a diverse cast and a great action plot. It meshes the more traditional Earth-bound MCU movies with the films with the more space-bound films, and leaves a great set up for Avengers: Endgame later this year. I quite liked the way that we saw some of the Kree before they become villains in the earlier films. The digitally de-aged Samuel L Jackson is splendid and brings his best singing voice to the film! The second cut scene is funny too. I'll never look at our cats in quite the same way!

10 March 2019
[1] Captain Marvel[2] is 'cool in both ways' according to Nathan (12). I've not managed to get him to expand on that yet.
[2] And I believe it should be Captain Mar-Vel according to Carol Danvers (although Nicky Fury disagrees).

New Theme


A further bit of modernisation tonight for the website with a new theme. This one - Florence - is from Brandon Lee Design and should be responsive for different device sizes. I liked the clean looks and the use of grey and orange (which is a hangover from my old site). Unfortunately, the way that it displays images doesn't work well with the stacks[1] page that allows me to link my Blogger feed to my website, otherwise, this would be topped with a glorious image I had from Mexico in 2013.

I may change the theme again, but not for a while. The themes cost money, and I'll use this for a bit to get some value out of it. One of the challenges with the new themes is that you have to get an idea in your head how they will look on the page because they are very flexible with multiple fonts, colours and layouts.

Feel free to let me know what you think about the change in the comments below.

[1] Stacks is a modular technology for Rapidweaver that allows very flexible design. It was developed by Yourhead software.
Comments (1)

Running Legacy: Life Amongst the Ruins at Revelation 2019


Revelation 2019 was a bit different for me, as I signed up for Steve E’s multislot game of The Sword, the Crown and the Unspeakable Power (SCUP) which covered the whole of Saturday, and had decided to run the Generation Ship playset for Legacy: Life Amongst the Ruins myself on the Sunday across both slots.

The Generation Ship setting is a plug-in for the Legacy rules that allows your players to explore the fates of the crew and passengers of an interstellar colony ship who have woken up several hundred years into a voyage, long before they reach the intended destination. The ship isn’t designed as a generation ship, but that’s what it becomes. There’s lots of great SF out there that uses a variation of this theme, ranging back to Brian Aldis’ Non-Stop. Noumenon (Marina J. Lostetter) used ‘generation fleets’ and Hull Zero Three (Greg Bear) did it more traditionally. To my shame Aurora (Kim Stanley Robinson) is still on my list to read, even though I’ve had a copy for a while. In the world of film Passengers (2016) looks at this but personally I don't like the film because I think the male character is a dick[1].

The game begins perhaps a hundred years after the first survivors woke up, so the memories of the times before the fall are distant. Perhaps there are one or two people around who remember what life was before the ship, but they are rare. The game has some objectives hardwired in; restoration of the ship systems. These replace ‘wonders’ in the main game but are mechanically similar. Obtaining control over a ship system gives the owner long term benefits, and can result in another family facing fortunes, trials or both.  

Powered by the Apocalypse (PbtA) games can tend to eat plot much more quickly than some of the more traditional brethren, but I was a little concerned that two slots were going to be tight. That gave us about 6 hours of gaming time after you take into consideration natural breaks and the need to get some food. I decided that the easiest way to get around this would be to do the preparation work online in advance, the same way I had done in previous years. Instead of using a soon-to-be-defunct Google+ community, I decided to use the expanded functionality of the Tavern ( . All the players agreed as they were either already there or willing to join. Maybe two months before, I set it all up, took a roll call, and got everyone to set the notifications system to alert them to a new post.

Legacy operates at two different levels; it has a Family level (used for ‘zoomed out’ big picture play) and a Character level (used for ‘zoomed in’ focused play around critical actions). It’s one of the mechanics that attracted me originally; the game is built to be set against the sweep of history. Characters can leave relics behind, and their actions will cause the family to rise or fall over the generations.

When I did my initial read through the game, I discovered that the playbooks file had two of the six families missing. A quick email to Jay Illes, the creator of the game, quickly got me a set of the family playbooks, and the file at Modiphius was updated as a result. I then had to cut the file into several blocks (Family Playset, Character Playsets and Moves/References) so I could manage the information flow to the players into viable chunks. I uploaded the family playbooks to the Tavern, and the players - to their credit - swiftly chose the families that they wanted to play.

I was all set to start a staged run through the options that they had on their playbooks when the Tavern was taken down to transfer between hosts and registries. It was meant to be for a long weekend, but events conspired and it went down until after Revelation. This blew a hole through our preparation plans; I did consider falling back to the Facebook group, but that didn’t happen because I was expecting the Tavern back and then I became embroiled in the Garricon organiser’s response to the issues raised by Zak Smith’s behaviour, finding myself draft policies and managing responses rather than preparing for the convention.

Faced with truncated preparation, I decided to go with completing the playbooks at the table, knowing I could reduce the difficulty of activating the ship systems to compensate. It’d need to be focused, but I figured that was the way that things usually go at conventions.

Preparation took us over two hours, something that I hadn’t expected. It was hard to achieve the same kind of focus and energy with this as I had when I ran SCUP at Furnace in late 2018. On reflection, this was partly due to the information overload that the players faced with two playbooks and two sets of base moves plus gear to absorb. Legacy excels in worldbuilding, but there were almost too many relationships available and agreements around treaty proved complex. Treaty is the subsystem of favours owed and held between the families, and it proved challenging to establish and several of the players just didn’t get it at first. In discussions after the game, Jay (who was attending the convention) mentioned that the new book based on Legacy, Free from the Yoke, simplifies the treaty system significantly by removing the different levels.

I used self-adhesive flipcharts for the game in a similar way to how I did this for SCUP. However, the number of moving parts and elements meant I was answering questions rather than taking the notes so everyone could see them. As a result, we didn’t have an ‘in-your-face’ break out of relationships and motivations, hooks that the players and I could link into. On reflection, I should have started this, and asked one of the players to cover for me when I was answering questions.

The game begins with an opening Council meeting between the players, and we were definitely feeling our feet and getting our balance. I needed to give a big push to get the game going and moving, but the players got stick into it. It took me a while to get used to zooming in and out between family and character levels. The setting isn’t strong for flipping up and down like this, especially if you’re using the Into the Dark move (which ended up feeling like one long travel sequence from The One Ring). As the various families start with limited resources, and the easiest way to gain them is to explore the ship and scavenge, the early parts of the game need to far more focused on exploring the setting and by necessity being in character-focused play.

One thing that caused some issues was that the content of the playsheets didn’t match the information presented in the book. Now, the book definitely looks like it was the final version, but some move names weren’t aligned and the ways that they worked and the options you could select from differed. They definitely need a proper review and an updated version issuing.

The first age of the game was all about the life support system; riffing off the backgrounds of several of the families, the council determined to send an expedition to find out where the recently awoken survivors who had been appearing came from and to locate the control system for the hydroponics and life support. The mission had the wholehearted backing of two of the families, and the others generally concurred. The Into the Dark move worked okay, but it did mechanically extend the narrative in some parts when I think we could probably have drawn it to a close much faster. Ultimately, the characters prevailed; I’m not sure if they ever felt truly threatened (we never got to a point when harm was done if I recall correctly), but they came back having achieved their objective. Tech, data and surpluses were spent as investments to lead to control of the ship system.

There was a really interesting interplay at the end of the first age when control of the ship system - the life support - was wrestled from the Throng (think drug and vice dealers) by the Enforcers and others. Treaty was used and deals struck at the family level. Most of the players rolled well when they resolved trials and fortunes at the end of the age there was a huge payoff when they realised the potential benefits of a ship system being brought into control. Glenn - who controlled the Enforcers - was looking a bit glum that he didn’t get all these benefits right up to the point where he realised that he could control the environment of the other families and potential force needs upon them. He also got access to surpluses each age he had control of the system. Suddenly, there was a prize and a reason to explore the ship or to try and take control from the other families.

There was a moment, just before lunch when I wasn’t sure whether this would work out. Even with significant reductions in the investments needed for control of the ship systems, the need to run in character mode and explore the ship was making things feel very slow and much more like a dungeon crawl I expected. As this was a double slot, I was worried because I’d asked the players to commit half their convention time to the game and I feared that they would go away disappointed.

However, after lunch the pace of the game quickened, no doubt spurred on by the proximity of trains for some. At the end of the first age, we advanced the timeline by a mere six months (which was good as it meant only two characters were changed). I need to give a shout out to Penda here, as he grabbed and ran with the idea of getting to the ship systems which helped me no end. With new energy, a desperate search started to local a computer network room which would allow us to identify the location of the bridge. Hints of alien involvement grew and the tension started to rise when it was discovered that the ship was off course. In the end, we came to a conclusion in the bridge of the ship, which left the families knowing some kind of alien intervention had happened, that they appeared to be off course, and they needed to get the astrogation arrays under their control if they wanted to restore the ship to its original course rather than ending up in orbit around a planet circling a neutron star. I think that the players went away happy with the result.

Those of us that weren’t on a hard timeline discussed the game for some time after we finished. Jay Illes dropped in the conversation and was very friendly and helpful. He ended up apologising in case his advice seemed like criticism, something that wasn’t necessary! He’s definitely played the game more than me and knows it in depth. He also observed that in a more normal game of Legacy you can easily spend a full session on world-building.

We had some challenges with players focussing on the moves on their sheets cutting across those who were more narratively focussed, but I think that happens across the gamut of PbtA games. Players will inherently have different ends of the spectrum that draw them. As the mechanics are there to drive interaction and the plot, I don’t have an issue with this except when it destroys the flow.

On reflection, I think that the game that I delivered at the table was a solid B. With slightly different circumstances, it would have seen me on my A game.

What would I change?

First of all, I’d either make sure that the pre-generation of families and characters was completed in advance or alternatively pitch this as a three slot game.

I’d consider pre-selecting the family moves to make this faster to the table; not sure if I’d do this.

I’d review the beta of Free from the Yoke and consider simplifying the treaty mechanics for the game.

I’d enlist the players to make sure that we captured all the key-points on the flipcharts so they were visible to everyone.

I’d manage the release of the moves information; this may actually not be necessary if pre-generation was completed in advance. Five sides of player aids (two for each level playbook and one for gear) swamped the players and it took quite some time for them to get their heads around them.

I’d have prepared more beats as I underestimated how much narrative the Into the Dark move chews up. I’d also draw the players in more by asking them about what kind of threats they are facing and how they plan to overcome them.

All in all, I think Legacy is a great game; albeit more suitable for a more extended session than some of its peers. It definitely gets that epic feel of a narrative arc more than other games. I’m happy I ran this and would love to return to it in the future.

Thanks to Nigel, Keary, Glenn, Penda and Remi[2] for the way they embraced making this a fun day.

[1] SPOILER - I don't have an issue with the actor, I just have an issue with way that the character woke up the female passenger and condemned her to the same fate because he was looking for an attractive companion. Just felt very wrong to me, and not 'romance' which is one of the categories the film is listed under.

[2] Remi gave me a moment of amusement when he rolled out his second character, Alexa (Mother). Before then, his character had been a replicant with a hive mind who was part of the ship's maintenance functions. It was only later that we discovered through the fiction and 'Alexa/Mother' that she was in fact the education AI who had tried to help her charges by creating replicants programmed using the science and engineering training packages to fix things and support those who had woken up. And she was a hologram, projected from fittings through-out the ship. She knew the IP address of the bridge, but couldn't access it, triggering the quest for a data centre.


Going Forward...

This stream is now my main blog. I have maintained the old posts as an archive and hopefully will get them onto the Blogger platform soon.

You may see old posts appearing before 21 February 2019. These will either be the old blog merging in, or some of the backlog of posts I wrote and never published (while I neglected my old website) which I'm gradually working through.

Migration - Interlude

RapidBlog logo

The blog is now showing at 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

Blogger logo
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 ( 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 ( 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.