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.