Work

I took this week off work, and spent it watching things, reading things, and playing games.

Books

This week I read:

  • Count Zero by William Gibson, the second of the Sprawl trilogy.

    This one was a bit confusing to follow, there are three separate storylines, they’re pretty fast-paced, and they take a while to come together. Malazan is all that style of writing, and I got through that fine, so I’m not too sure what my difficulty with Count Zero was. Maybe it’s because Count Zero is a single, fairly short, book; so when I was getting up to half or two-thirds of the way through and was still guessing how everything fit together, it felt like I was missing something, whereas with Malazan you go into it not expecting to be able to fit things together until you’re multiple books further into the story.

    Putting aside the confusion, it was still an enjoyable read.

  • Volume 4 of Black Wings of Cthulhu edited by S. T. Joshi, an anthology of modern Lovecraftian stories.

    I particularly liked:

    • The Rasping Absence by Richard Gavin

      In which the horrors of dark matter drive a journalist to madness. A good classic “the universe is vast, and that’s nightmarish” Lovecraft trope.

    • Contact by John Pelan and Stephen Mark Rainey

      Humanity travels the solar system frozen asleep for months at a time in big spacecraft, and one such craft is now approaching Pluto to investigate some rare mineral which has been detected. The previous ship never returned. This one does, but they bring back an undesired guest.

    • Dark Redeemer by Will Murray

      About a secret US government agency who use remote viewing to probe the secrets of reality. Very X-Files or Delta Green.

    • The Wall of Asshur-sin by Donald Tyson

      I think this was my favourite in the collection. A cyclopean archaeological artefact is discovered: a wall, holding the sea off from the Yemen desert. People devote decades to studying it, but it has a secret purpose, known only to those descendants of the people who worshipped the original wall builders.

  • Issue 1 of The Peridot by David McGrogan.

    Described as “an irregularly published ’zine”, but issue 1 came out in 2016 and there’s no issue 2 yet, so I suspect that this is it.

    I found it of mixed utility.

    There’s a Sumerian setting at the start which got me thinking about things. I quite like bronze age RPG settings, because they’re so different from your typical high fantasy faux-medieval-Europe setting, which is a nice change. You don’t get many animals-with-the-faces-of-people in your standard fantasy, for some reason. So it was nice to read a small setting for that style of play. There was also the first (and likely only) instalment of a story written in the Yoon-Suin setting, which I quite liked. The other bits of the zine, not so much.

  • Troika! by Daniel Sell.

    Troika’s a science-fantasy RPG, where the implied setting is more of a super-far-future blend of sci-fi and magic like The Book of the New Sun and Dying Earth than it is Lord of the Rings.

    I ran a game this weekend, and I’ve posted my first impressions on the other blog.

    Just on the topic of the book, it’s physically really nice. Good thick paper, light coloured backgrounds with tables having a plain white background (so they really stand out), art in a weird but fitting style, and it’s a hardback despite being short. It just looks and feels very nice.

  • The Gardens of Ynn by Emmy Allen.

    A collection of random tables, interesting locations, and weird monsters—all garden-themed—for you to randomly generate a pointcrawl adventure. I used it in my Troika session, and it worked pretty well! There are parts where the layout isn’t so great, or there are uncaught typos, but it’s a fun and entirely usable product.

  • Hamlet’s Hit Points by Robin D. Laws.

    It’s very good, it defines a few different types of story beat and then goes through Hamlet, Dr. No, and Casablanca breaking them down into beats and showing how the narratives use fear & hope to keep the audience engaged. And looking back on some of my recent sessions, I can see where I’ve done that sort of thing, though without consciously thinking of it in those terms.

    The basic premise is that most story beats should be procedural, bringing the party’s concrete goals into play, or dramatic, bringing the party’s inner goals into play. And that beats should generally inspire positive or negative emotions, rather than being mixed or neutral. There are a bunch of other minor beat types to use sparingly too, such as the bringdown, which is a negative emotional moment disconnected from the main plot (like the trope of the rejected lover walking home in the rain and then getting splashed by a passing car). I’ll need to think about this some more, and hopefully bring some of the ideas into how I prepare game sessions.

Gaming

I ran a session of Troika! today, and it was very fun. It’s easy to pick up, as the rules aren’t complex; and it’s full of opportunities to inject humour and silliness, because the setting is so weird.

I wrote about it on the other blog.

Miscellaneous

I watched The Haunting of Hill House and Truth Seekers this week. Both were enjoyable, in their own ways. I’m not much of a fan of jump scares, and unfortunately Hill House had quite a lot of those. I also watched the extended Lord of the Rings films in a single, very long, sitting.

Some exciting news is that a District 9 sequel is finally in the works.

History

Roleplaying Games

Miscellaneous